How This Tech Giant Acts Global and Thinks Local4 min read.
Burgeoning interest and investment in the middle east is opening up opportunities in all sorts of sectors, but how do you create the right messaging to attract talent in a region seemingly so culturally different?...
With new young and ambitious leadership, a growing population and of course, plenty of wealth, there is much excitement around the future of the Middle East right now.
Using sport (leading to plenty of accusations of ‘sportswashing’) and an extensive infrastructure building programme to promote a positive image of the region, alongside some concessions towards equality in some areas (and not so much in others), there is no doubt that it is being regarded with a new and different outlook.
The Middle East presents exciting growth opportunities for tech companies in particular, but the accepted wisdom is that successfully establishing operations in the region requires nuanced cultural understanding at best and critics would say a willingness to leave certain “western” scruples at the door.
To get a better understanding of the reality of the region and the opportunities it presents, we spoke to Farooq Husain who brings nearly 14 years of talent acquisition experience as Head of Talent Acquisition at Dell Technologies. He has first-hand information on what works and what doesn’t in the region. Currently based in Dubai, he leads end-to-end recruitment for the region Dell defines as "META" - the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa.
Based on the most recent data, the following are the top five fastest-growing business sectors in the Middle East region:
Construction and Infrastructure: The construction sector is booming, particularly in the UAE, catalysed by contributions from Expo 2022
E-Commerce Solutions: E-commerce is rapidly growing, with Dubai becoming a significant hub.
Tourism and Travel: The tourism and travel industry is a major sector in the Middle East, particularly in countries like the UAE and is growing apace as the region seeks investment and partnerships elsewhere.
Real Estate: The real estate industry contributes nearly 7% of the total GDP in the UAE, with the construction industry contributing 6.3%
Technology and IT Services: A technology-based economy is expanding across the Middle East, with a focus on digital services and online shopping.
There’s no doubt business is booming in the region. The average growth rate across tech companies in the territory was 277% during a four-year period, according to Deloitte. The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) IT services market is poised to achieve a CAGR of 5% by 2027, according to at least one report.
Additionally, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region's IT spending is forecast to accelerate in 2024, increasing 4% from 2023, with a projected total of $183.8 billion in 2024, up from $176.8 billion in 2023 says Gartner.
For Husain, covering such rapid growth and regional diversity requires a localised approach to talent acquisition and employer branding. As he explains, while Dell has a clear employer value proposition and branding framework globally, "when you look at talent attraction from a recruiting standpoint, I think it gets more localised and needs to be more culturally sensitive. Looking at what you're hiring for and where you're hiring."
Creating culturally relevant Employer Branding
So, what does culturally relevant employer branding look like in the region?
According to Husain: ”Your content will change,” he explains. “So, how will you launch programmes, how will you run them? I mean, culturally, you must be conscious when you're dealing with a certain population, and what works for them, what doesn't. Even your office setups or your programme launches or your mentorship experiences, they have to be carefully crafted, keeping in mind the cultural needs of a particular population."
As an example, Husain points to how a female mentorship program targeted at local talent in the UAE would need messaging that is "absolutely localised and sensitive in targeting that population. What works here would not work let's say for example, in Ireland."
At Dell, the regional talent acquisition team has significant influence over localised employer branding.
"I would say 90-100 per cent of that messaging is done in house by the local team and that content is created organically." If the regional teams adhere to Dell's global brand guidelines, Hussein says they have "a fairly blank canvas to draw from”.
“Messaging comes out of what actually happens in real life. Because if you talk about success stories, if you talk about culture, you talk about how we treat our people. That's what draws the messaging. That's what's ends up building the content.
“Now for us at Dell the DNA is we treat people right. We are flexible about how we work; we offer long-term growth opportunities. We are absolutely tuned in to our commitment to the environment. We are absolutely committed to bringing a very large, diverse workforce into each of our offices globally. Now when you have those initiatives actually going live and succeeding in the market, on the ground, that’s what draws the right messaging in the content.”
Young talent in the META sphere is particularly important.
“We run very successful campaigns across the large universities in two key locations, which is Morocco and Egypt. That's where the bulk of your hiring sits. The aim is to create awareness for Dell Technologies. We reach out to colleges, we visit institute’s, and run workshops to create awareness about the sort of careers that we offer in the information technology world and that then brings the crowd back into our career pages to apply for roles when they come up. So, it's a very, very targeted branding activity, which is what we call Dell On Tour.”
As it did just about everywhere else the Covid-19 pandemic also accelerated changes in work culture across the region. Having historically offered flexible work policies, however, the shift was less pronounced at Dell and for the region generally.
As Husain recounts: “I think we clearly saw the shift and more so towards the Gen Z talent pool, but you know, the millennials and upwards, the mid management and experience levels of upwards five years, I think they settled well during the pandemic to lockdown and quite quickly bounced back to an office-based culture when needed and are keen to come back."
Husain says Dell continues to evaluate the direction of travel. regarding remote and flexible work. While the company values relationship building through in-office collaboration, it also provides employees with leeway in structuring their work weeks between office and remote work.
The knowledge gap
When it comes to misconceptions Western companies may hold regarding talent acquisition in the region, Husain is quick to highlight the promise and potential of the rapidly emerging middle east markets. In his view, the region is as competitive as any other market globally and more open to new thinking than most.
He points to the ambition and vision of regional leadership as differentiating factors fuelling growth and opportunity, highlighting how Dubai has been transformed into a global destination, as well as the young, forward-thinking leaders of Saudi Arabia owning "the 2030 vision" for economic diversification and societal progress.
The vision is providing inspiration not just for business, but for the local population. Husain explains that for the young Saudi IT professionals he interacts with, "they want to be part of that 2030 vision, they want to engage, they want to give back and they want to grow alongside the growth of the country.”
“I come from Asia. I've lived here 16 years now. 17. And, trust me, the region is a melting pot of cultures. Now, depending on what you like and dislike, you'll find everything from schools to health care, to the infrastructure, you name it, and we have it. And we have top class technology infrastructure available to everybody who wants to access it. So, I think that whole stigma around being mislabelled is the biggest myth that a potential candidate can have looking at emerging markets and specifically Middle East.”
How to survive in the desert
Top tips for effective employer branding in the Middle East...
- Localise messaging and programs to align with cultural norms and expectations. One size does not fit all regions or talent segments.
- Build culturally diverse teams who create organic, locally relevant content and campaigns. They best understand nuances that resonate.
- Offer flexible work policies sensitive to needs, but balance with in-office collaboration to nurture engagement and growth. Avoid rigidity.
- Spotlight societal commitments like sustainability and DEI that align with local interests and priorities.
- Understand the ambition and growth projections across markets. Align your employer brand with this promise and potential.
- Debunk misconceptions. Emerging Gulf markets boast world-class infrastructure and are hungry for visionary brands.