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Ethnicity and Cultural Diversity in the United Arab Emirates


The United Arab Emirates is home to more than 200 ethnicities, and the country’s cultural landscape has long embraced the convergence of international communities (Hopkyns et al., 2020). The UAE views the diverse culture and beliefs present in its society as a symbol of motivation and growth for the country. As a result, the UAE has made more concerted initiatives to ensure that cultural diversity norms are recognized and promoted (UNESCO, 2021). It has passed regulations to emphasize the right to be educated, respect diverse religions and ethnic origins, and provide options to help workers preserve and commemorate their cultural heritages.

Ethnic Diversity in the UAE

The United Arab Emirates is home to a society that is culturally varied. According to the World Population Review (2022), as of March 2022, the population of the United Arab Emirates is already at 10.08 million (see Appendix II). There are several variables that contribute to the increase in the country’s population, one of which is the entry of new immigrants. Currently, Dubai is the most populated city in the UAE (see Appendix I). The number of immigrants settling in the United Arab Emirates has increased due to the numerous work opportunities available in the country (Malit & Tsourapas, 2021).

The UAE is under more significant pressure to suitably recruit and work with people from various diverse and cultural origins. The effective handling of ethnic diversity in the workplace using a variety of methods has thus given rise to a new national priority in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). As a result, managers in UAE firms are increasingly required to know and apply the best collaboration and ethnic diversity techniques while engaging with a very varied workforce. However, as could be anticipated, corporations in the United Arab Emirates have policies and approaches for diversity and intercultural communication, much like many other organizations (Warner & Moonesar, 2019). For a variety of reasons, organizations place a high value on diversity. Several studies have found that diversity is a critical factor in ensuring that all employees have fair and equal opportunities in the workplace. Offering aid for equal opportunity enables institutions to reap the most significant possible advantage from a highly diversified work population. Thus, attempts to promote diversity ensures that a specific firm does not lose its potential employees.

Theories of Diversity in the UAE Workforce

It is possible to forecast the repercussions of ethnic diversity in the workforce using two different theoretical techniques. A first point to note is that the socio-psychological approach is concerned with theories linked to ethnic diversity as a subset of social category diversity (Sullivan, 2019). The second method, known as the cultural approach, is concerned with ethnic variety as represented by cultural differences among members and, more specifically, how differences in culture can affect the relationship between individuals of diverse ethnic communities (Civitillo et al., 2017).

The Social-psychological Theory

As stated earlier, social identity theory holds that people acquire identity and feeling of belonging by associating themselves with social classes and participating with other communities (Calvard & Sang, 2017). People are more than happy to detect ethnic diversity in the workforce when they are part of a social group (known as an ingroup). Ethnicity is a surface-level trait, so it may be used to swiftly separate a group of individuals into ethnic divisions by dividing them into cultural subgroups. Aside from that, people may commonly bond with their cultural origin because it gives them a sense of togetherness; it ties them to a community of strongly linked people who all share an identical culture whenever someone identifies with a specific ethnic ingroup. According to social identity theory, people are more likely to favor and be more partial to their cultural ingroup above other ethnic outgroups.

The Cultural Theory

A second method of explaining the relation between ethnic diversity and job outcomes concentrates on the disparities in cultural values and beliefs (Smith & Bond, 2019). The concept of “culture” has already been defined in various ways throughout history. Cultural groupings are similar in that they adhere to specific norms, beliefs, objectives, and priorities and share a common socio-cultural heritage. It is not contentious to assume that persons of the exact ethnic origin possess the same culture, even if they do not share a common language.

First and foremost, ethnic diverse groups may experience communication difficulties (Cletus et al., 2018). There are variances in language usage, intonation, and phrasing. Second, the cultural values adhered to by ethnically different groups differ from one another (Loue, 2013). In this dimension, one’s identity is determined by their own decisions and successes, or by the nature of the group to which one belongs. Finally, cultural gaps seen between corporate culture and the ethnic backgrounds of employees may make it more difficult for them to adjust to the organizational culture in which they work (Joseph & Kibera, 2019). So foreign employees born in a society that is significantly different from the organization’s behavior may have more difficulty adjusting to the corporate culture than native staff who come from a culture that is more comparable to the workplace culture.

Finally, while comparing acculturation attitudes among immigrant employees, it is possible to find differences between them (Thirlwall et al., 2021). Acculturation refers to the occurrences when clusters of people of diverse cultures come into constant first-hand interaction, resulting in modifications in the initial cultural traits of either or both of the groups.

Concepts of Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace

Cultural groups can have a wide range of qualities in common (Hamer et al., 2018). It can be based on various factors such as culture, ethnicity, language, nationality, etc. The emphasis on ethnic diversity guarantees that all may join on their terms. As a relational construct, diversity management is frequently adopted only loosely at the local and global scales in many organizations around the world, including the United Arab Emirates. While this may be understandable when the population is mainly homogeneous and many other important issues to address, it is not always the case. The professional, cultural, social, and historical variability among the workers in the United Arab Emirates, on the other hand, necessitates a multidimensional institutional and structural strategy for addressing diversity management (Chaudhry et al., 2021). At the micro-level, diversity management must be counted as part of leaders and managers whose personality, authority, and abilities have the potential to influence the performance of any company at any level (Mannix & Neale, 2005).

Best Practices of Ethnic Diversity in the Workplace

Equality and diversity are necessary to guarantee that firm management possesses the essential qualities and expertise to lead the organization (Sharma, 2016). Here are some current best practices to ensure an ethnically diverse workforce in UAE.

Proper Communication

To correctly manage a diversified workforce, firms must ensure that they appropriately interact with their employees (Goby et al., 2015). Regulations, methods, safety laws, and other valuable facts should be intended to solve problems and obstacles by interpreting material, employing symbols and pictures whenever possible, translating materials, and using photographs and logos whenever possible.

Treat everyone as a person

Make no claims about workers who come from a variety of various backgrounds (Yaghi & Yaghi, 2013). Look at every staff as an individual and judge successes and failures based on the person’s merits instead of relating behavior to a person’s history, culture, or previous experiences.

Encourage Diverse Groups

Individualized work teams allow employees to recognize and appreciate each other on a more personal level (al Oraimi, 2020). The groups can also aid in the dismantling of conventional beliefs and ethnic misunderstandings.


This report demonstrates that the United Arab Emirates is a culturally and linguistically diverse country, as shown by the vast number of expatriates who reside in the country. The population is on a steady rise and is projected to move from 10.08 million to about 10.6 million in 2030 (see Appendix III) However, there are still parts of UAE society that are intolerant of differences. To solve this issue, the authorities and social organizations have demonstrated a reinvigorated commitment to promoting multiculturalism as among the country’s significant pillars for economic development. These measures are likely to help the government raise its reputation as one of the most culturally diverse countries in the Middle East.


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Appendix I: UAE Population Density

Name Population
Dubai 1,137,347
Abu Dhabi 603,492
Sharjah 543,733
Al Ain 408,733
Ajman 226,172
Ras al-Khaimah 115,949
Al Fujayrah 62,415
Umm al Qaywayn 44,411
Khawr Fakkan 33,575
Dibba Al-Fujairah 30,000

Culled from World Population Review

Appendix II: United Arab Emirates Population by Year

Year Population Growth Rate Density (km²) Population Rank Density Rank
2022 10,081,785 1.22% 120.60 93 97
2021 9,991,089 1.31% 119.51 93 96
2020 9,890,402 1.23% 118.31 93 97
2019 9,770,529 1.45% 116.87 92 97
2018 9,630,959 1.52% 115.20 93 97
2017 9,487,203 1.35% 113.48 93 97
2015 9,262,900 1.62% 110.80 94 99
2010 8,549,988 13.26% 102.27 94 104
2005 4,588,225 7.92% 54.88 117 145
2000 3,134,062 5.35% 37.49 130 160
1995 2,415,090 5.72% 28.89 136 167
1990 1,828,432 6.00% 21.87 143 175
1985 1,366,164 6.03% 16.34 146 182
1980 1,019,509 13.21% 12.20 148 188
1975 548,301 18.51% 6.56 157 203
1970 234,514 9.37% 2.81 170 216
1965 149,857 10.15% 1.79 173 222
1960 92,418 3.04% 1.11 178 223
1955 79,578 2.72% 0.95 182 223

Culled from World Population Review

Appendix III: United Arab Emirates Population by Year (Projections)

Year Population Growth Rate Density (km²) Population Rank Density Rank
2023 10,165,148 1.08% 121.59 92 97
2024 10,245,011 0.95% 122.55 92 96
2025 10,323,859 0.86% 123.49 92 96
2030 10,661,076 0.65% 127.52 91 98

Culled from World Population Review


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