Middle East attracting female professionals

August 15, 2012 8:59:51 PM PDT
Nearby countries are working to prevent the violence in Syria from spilling over the border to Turkey and Lebanon. Meanwhile, on the other side of the Arabian peninsula, gulf states like Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, it is a much different situation.

The economies of those countries and kingdoms are thriving at a time when many of the world's economies are struggling.

The promise of good jobs with great pay and ever better perks is drawing Houston women to that region to live and work.

Lore Guilmartin is a single, Houston woman about to make a huge sacrifice.

"There didn't seem to be any reason not to go," she said.

She is moving to Doha, Qatar in the Middle East.

"They have a very generous salary, they cover the cost of housing. They also provide payment to cover the cost of a car, they cover cost of travel to come back to the U.S. once a year and they cover your travel over there and give you a relocation allowance," Guilmartin said.

Doha is situated along the Persian Gulf in Qatar -- a small, but thriving Middle Eastern country. With Islamic roots, Doha's more liberal way of life and lucrative construction projects are attracting more foreign workers, such as architects, educators and folks in the energy sector.

"The population of Doha itself, I think is only 20 percent Qataris, and the rest foreigners," Kirstin Matthews said.

Matthews is a fellow at the Baker Institute. She's visited Doha twice, with plans to return. The state of Qatar is funding her project on stem cell policy.

"They give you a lot of amenities to kind of encourage people to show up," she said.

Aside from the perks, is the Middle East a suitable, reasonable place for non-Arabic speaking American women to work and live?

We asked Houstonian Holly Bronson via Skype. She has lived in Doha and now Dubai, in the United Arab Emirates, working as a financial analyst for Exxon-Mobile.

"I think you have to come with an open mind. I think you have to be willing to understand what is going to be requested of you," Bronson said.

While Bronson isn't required to veil, sometimes she covers her hair depending on where she travels in the region. During the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, she doesn't eat or drink in public. And as a triathlete, Bronson chooses to dress more conservatively during training.

"To some aspect, it's just being open to somebody else's society and cultural norms and some of it is just being respectful," she said.

Christene Kimmel leads an internship program overseas and says students are asking to go to the Middle East.

"To go to Doha, we had over 45 applications and more than half of them were female," Kimmel said.

Back at Guilmartin's northwest Houston town home, on her final days in Houston, she continues her crash-course in the culture she'll soon join.

"Even though I may face some social challenges living over there, the economic and professional opportunities are just so great, the positives vastly outweigh the negatives," she said.

So the advice and reinforcement of women in her shoes is comforting.

"As a woman I was quite surprised at how comfortable I felt the entire time," Matthews said.

"I think it met our expectations and then exceeded," Kimmel said.

It's enough to make Guilmartin want to stay without even having stepped foot there.

"I think professionally it would make sense to stay for maybe 3,4,5 years -- I just don't know. It will just depend on how things go but that opportunity is out there," Guilmartin said.

The women wouldn't get specific on how much more they get paid to work in the Middle East. But consider this, they get a lot free amenities -- housing, car, flights, plus a substantial salary boost, which, in many cases, is tax free. Just one reason why recruiting this new workforce isn't difficult at all.

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