An IE in the Middle East: Diversity in the Workplace

By Fernando Lamelas

I am particularly excited this month to write about one of the topics that I am most passionate about: diversity in the workplace. This is a topic I have been exposed to throughout my career in the various internships and full-time jobs that have been a part of. In each of these, working with people from different nationalities, cultures and backgrounds has been a very rewarding experience that I consider key to my professional development.

Let me first start by addressing what diversity means to me. At times, when I have been asked this question, the first things that come to people’s minds are generally nationality, language, gender, age, religious beliefs, socio-economic status, race and sexual orientation. Diversity though, has a much broader meaning and encompasses more than recognizing and respecting our individual differences. For me, diversity is about accepting others and understanding that each individual is unique. Diversity for me is about not only acknowledging and respecting that people are different, but about caring, embracing and making the best of those differences. In today’s business environment, diversity in the workplace is critical and remains a key strategic priority for multinational companies that operate across various markets.

ImageTo understand diversity in my current job, it is important to understand the demographics of Dubai. Per the latest census conducted by the Statistic Centre of Dubai in 2012, the total population of the city is roughly 2.1M, from which only 0.5M or 25% of the population is Emirati (UAE nationals). The remaining population is comprised of expats from a wide range of countries including India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Iran, Pakistan and the Philippines. An important percentage of the population also comes from other western European countries and the United States, with the biggest population of western expatriates belonging to the UK, an estimated 100,000.

Within the Emirates Group, diversity is at the core of the business and remains important for the company’s success. Emirates Airline, for example, flies today to over 120 destinations across 6 continents. The Cabin Crew (or flight attendants) come from 137 nationalities and speak 58 languages. It is a common practice for recruiters to travel around the world to find the right people for the job. One important component in the recruitment strategy is fluency in a specific language that may be needed to match the demographics of a certain sector or route. For example, a flight leaving from Dubai to Sao Paolo would most likely include Cabin Crew who speak Portuguese. Another key factor is evaluating cross-cultural sensitivity. An estimated 50,000 individuals are screened each year, yet only about 4,000 are hired for the job.

In my specific work area within dnata Airport Operations, diversity is not the exception. In my department, for example, I work with people from more than 10 different nationalities including the UAE, India, Sri Lanka, Palestine, Jordan, Philippines, New Zealand and the UK.  While in Emirates Airline there are other Mexicans in Cabin Crew, Captain and First Officer roles, in dnata I am the only one. Despite this, all my coworkers have been extremely welcoming, easing my adaptation process to the company’s culture and the UAE. I have also found that they are all very interested and curious to hear how different things are in both the US and Mexico, something that I am always happy to explain and share. For me, one of the most interesting things about my workday is constantly listening to Arabic and Hindi conversations. While the official language to conduct business is English, it is normal for coworkers of a same country to speak in their native language. When this happens, I just sit back and contemplate (though I am slowly picking up a few words here and there)!ImageIn the coming weeks, I will be experiencing my first Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and a period of great religious significance for the Muslims. During this time, Muslims abstain from consuming food or liquids during the daylight hours, in order to feel equality with those less fortunate and to cleanse the body and soul. While I cannot say I am looking forward to the experience, I fully understand and respect the significance of this period for the Muslim world. After it is all set and done, I am sure I will look back and have a greater appreciation for the Arab culture and the differences that make us unique.

In case you miss last month’s blog, click on the link to June’s post: An IE in the Middle East: Process dependency

Fernando Lamelas is a Resource Planning Manager for dnata, the air services company of the Emirates Group and currently lives in Dubai, UAE. Prior to his current role, Fernando worked for other Fortune 500 companies including Disney, General Electric and CEMEX. He holds a BS from Tecnológico de Monterrey and a MS from the University of Florida, both in Industrial Engineering. He is passionate about travelling, sports, diversity in the workplace, personal development and volunteerism.


  1. Avinash

    Good article. Will be sure to read the previous two soon!

  2. Estimado señor Lamelas,
    Un informe excelente. Es bueno que usted entienda la importancia de las culturas diversificadas en todo el mundo. La mayoría de las personas en los EE.UU. habla solo inglés. Felicitaciones y que tenga buenas experiencias durante su trabajo con la aerolínea. Edward Williams

Comments are closed.