Skip to main content
The First Steps toward Developing Leadership Programs for Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Survey Study Exploring the Transformation of Emirati College Students
Academy of Management (2009)
  • Susan R. Madsen, Utah Valley University
Developing effective leaders has become one of the most critical challenges for many organizations today, as strong, competent leadership often separates high-performing, successful organizations from less effective ones. In many countries research is being conducted to assist practitioners in designing successful leadership development programs for both men and women. However, in some countries, such as the United Arab Emirates (UAE), these efforts are only in their infancy, and leadership development for women is a new concept. Needless to say, there is no evidence of existing research on the development of women leaders in that country, and only a few indications that the development of leadership for women has even been addressed in past years. However, it seems that things may be changing (Al Qasimi, 2007; Khaleej Times, 2007), and with these emerging perceptional changes it is expected that there will be future opportunities for management practitioners to design and implement leadership development initiatives for Emirati women. To effectively design future leadership development programs to meet the developmental needs of Emirati women, research that explores the backgrounds and experiences of these women in learning environments can be helpful. In fact, the first step toward developing leadership programs for Emirati women is to understand the type of learning that transforms them. Learning that transforms individuals is learning that changes individuals. Since developing leadership is a transforming process, Mezirow’s (1991) transformational learning theory provided a valuable theoretical lens to guide this research. As Merriam and Caffarella (1995) noted, “transformational learning theory is about change—dramatic, fundamental change in the way we see ourselves and the world in which we live” (p. 318). They explained that this kind of learning is more than merely adding to what we already know. Clark (1993) stated that “Transformational learning shapes people; they are different afterward, in ways both they and others can recognize” (p. 47). To begin understanding the learning and development of Emirati women, an online survey instrument was developed to explore perceptions of transformational learning at Abu Dhabi Women’s College (ADWC) and to determine the influences that may affect these perceptions. The study explored three potential influences (influential individuals, learning assignments and activities, and outside college-related influences) on the transformation of students during college through the three core components of the transformational learning lens (mental construction of experience, critical reflection, and development and action) (Merriam & Caffarella, 1995). Two research questions guided this study: 1) To which extent do individuals, learning assignments and activities, and specific outside opportunities or activities influence the transformational learning perceptions and experiences of female college students in Abu Dhabi?; and 2) Can demographics predict transformational learning ? The survey instrument was created after a thorough review of the literature focused on transformational learning, transformative learning, and transformative education. Although there were many studies on transformational learning, only one researcher (King, 1998) used a quantitative instrument to collect data. I used her survey as the foundation for this survey, but substantial revisions and additions were made. The first section of the survey (18-items; 5-point scale, “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree”) focused on student perceptions of transformational learning through exploring the three change categories: 1) perceptions of change in self and others, 2) thoughts and actions in considering and making changes, and 3) awareness of the benefits of change and predictions of their own future behaviors. The second and third sections of the instrument focused on reflection and learning influences, which served as independent variables for this study. The final section included seven intervening demographic variables: marital status, college major, prior education, years at the college, age, living location, and significant changes that have occurred during the past year (marriage, birth of children, move, divorce/separation, death of loved one, change jobs, loss of job, and new job). It is also important to note that the full survey was available for students in both English and Arabic. Of the approximately 750 ADWC students invited to participate in this online survey via face-to-face or email invitation, 294 responded and took the survey. Overall, students in this study perceived themselves as having gone through a transformational learning experience at ADWC during their years attending. Students appear to have significantly changed their opinions, expectations, and views because of their college experience. Their educational experiences have often caused them to reflect on their previous decisions or past behaviors and on how their studies impact them personally. Student participants also believe that influential individuals, learning assignments and activities, and outside influences have influenced the transformation they have made throughout their college career thus far. Although it was clear that each of the three components of transformational learning influenced each other, the regression analysis showed that none predicted perceptions of change or considering and making changes. Reflection was a predictor of two of the three transformation learning components. Interesting, learning assignments and activities is the only potential influence that predicted awareness and prediction of future behaviors. The independent variables explained close to 50% of the variance for two of the three transformational learning variables: 1) thoughts and actions in considering and making changes and 2) awareness of the benefits of change and predictions of their own future behaviors. Many findings provide insights helpful in offering numerous implications for designing leadership development programs for women UAE nationals. For example, these findings provide support that the inclusion of well designed reflective assignments and experiences can assist women in 1) understanding themselves and others, 2) thinking and acting differently, and 3) seeing how they can contribute to society, make a future impact or difference, and reach a new level of potential they now see in themselves. Although there are a number of limitations for this study, it provides a starting point to the exploration of how educators, scholars, and practitioners might assist in helping Emirati women develop leadership at least in college/university settings and possibly beyond. References Al Qasimi, S. L. B. K. 2007. Women in the mainstream. In T.A. Kamali (Ed.). An anthology celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Higher Colleges of Technology. Abu Dhabi: The HCT Press. Clark, M. C. 1993. Transformational learning. In S. B. Merriam (Ed.). An update on adult learning theory. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, no. 57. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Khaleej Times. November 19, 2007. ‘Women active partners in nation’s development.’ Khaleej Times. King, K. P. 1998. A guide to perspective transformation and learning activities: The learning activities survey. Philadelphia: Research for Better Schools, Inc.
  • Women,
  • Leadership,
  • UAE,
  • Leadership Development
Publication Date
August 11, 2009
Citation Information
Susan R. Madsen. "The First Steps toward Developing Leadership Programs for Women in the United Arab Emirates: A Survey Study Exploring the Transformation of Emirati College Students" Academy of Management (2009)
Available at: