Inspiring Professors: Dr. Samineh Shaheem’s fight to end bullying in the UAE
Like our students, Hult professors are globally minded, driven, and passionate. Professor of Organizational Behavior & Leadership at Hult, Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem believes that the best way to prevent bullying in the workplace is to tackle it in school. She is working to improve cultural and emotional intelligence in the Middle East, with schoolchildren as young as three, through to EMBA students and beyond. Based on research findings, Dr. Shaheem founded the ‘Bolt Down on Bullying’ campaign, developing a culturally relevant program to raise awareness of and combat bullying within schools in the UAE.
Passion born of research
The inspiration behind Dr. Shaheem’s charity began in 2009, when she presented a talk at the Dubai Health Authority’s annual conference related to psychological violence in the workplace. Her exploration showed that cognitive and behavioral habits are learned very early in life. This, as well as a protective instinct toward her young son who was being educated in the UK, and an impassioned sense of justice, laid the foundation for the ‘Bolt Down on Bullying’ campaign.
Designing a culturally relevant campaign
Dr. Shaheem founded the campaign in 2010, after observing that there was little structural framework to combat bullying in Emirati schools. Further, any anti-bullying strategies that had been implemented were based heavily on US and UK programs—countries whose cultures do not reflect the unique composition of the United Arab Emirates’.
Dr. Shaheem’s own extensive work experience across the UAE, UK, USA, Canada, NL, and Iran informed her reasoning that a customized approach in relation to local social factors was needed in order to facilitate any meaningful change of attitude. There is a near unparalleled cultural transience in the UAE, formed of ‘temporary’ citizens from a multitude of backgrounds. School parents and teachers here comprise over 200 nationalities—many of whom don’t necessarily even have a word equating to ‘bullying’ in their native languages. So the first obstacle was to define it. Now consider that UAE schools are all fee-paying schools, so there is also an institutional stigma around being the first to ‘admit’ to having a problem.
Undeterred, Dr. Shaheem continued single-handedly, literally knocking on doors in order to grow support. This led her to partner with local radio Dubai Eye 103.8 FM, to raise awareness and de-stigmatize the issue to enable schools to open up and get on board.
“My own cross-cultural experiences made me realise that we need to identify our similarities in order to understand our differences. In order to truly understand the cultural nuances that influence behavior, actions and opinions, you have to understand the culture in which they originate.”
Coaching children to care
Since launching the ‘Bolt Down on Bullying’ campaign, Dr. Shaheem has coached numerous schools across the region, focusing on developing care, emotional intelligence, and empathy. Based on extensive research through interviews with counselors, therapists, GPs and parents, she delivers seminars including lectures, discussion groups, structured exercises and feedback. Consequently, she empowers not only parents and teachers, but the children themselves, who are encouraged to moderate their own and their classmates’ behavior directly through “ABC” Anti-Bullying Clubs.
Empathy into adulthood
Dr. Shaheem notes that the sooner we start tackling these issues in relation to age and developmental life span, the better it is for everybody. The brain continues developing into adulthood. So the brain of a 15 year-old may not be ready to grasp what a 25 year-old can grasp. Therefore understanding what to teach at various developmental levels is critical and very complex.
“Among children, emotional manipulation is overt and direct but among adults it can unfortunately be creeping and subtle, to the extent that the victim may end up questioning their own capability or even their own sanity. If you are anxious and stressed, operating with anxiety, or not rewarded, or excluded, harassed, or bullied, then how are you expected to perform?”
Greater self-, social, and cultural awareness improves operational performance
The more empathy we have, the more we are aware of what drives people’s behaviors and the motivations behind them. In turn, the more effectively we are able to operate.
By way of example, Shaheem explains: “If am quiet in a meeting then it might be a personal issue, not a professional one. A person trained in emotional intelligence (or “EQ”) can quickly get to the bottom of this and work toward finding a resolution.”
Can you imagine if organizations around the world spent more time researching these topics and training their employees?
Ensuring Hult graduates are ready for success in the workplace
Professor Shaheem says Hult’s ‘learning by doing’ ethos and practical curriculum support the development of emotional intelligence, which is key to both future success and satisfaction at work. “Acquiring emotional intelligence is up to 30% theory versus 70% experiential learning”, she says. In 2013, Hult gathered feedback from 100 Fortune 500 CEOs who affirmed that business graduates lacked the highly developed soft skills needed to be cooperative team-members and highly effective leaders. Accordingly, Hult redesigned its curriculum to address this and ensure these cognitive and behavioral skills are taught alongside the traditional “hard skills” and academic theory.
“Acquiring emotional intelligence is up to 30% theory versus 70% experiential learning” – Dr. Samineh Shaheem
One way this is done is through the Leadership Development Program. This core course includes a series of intensive behavioral classes based on coaching, self-evaluations, and peer feedback. Shaheem runs multi-day simulations, role play exercises, psychometric testing, games and activities to open students up and focus on their own strengths and development needs.
Creating a safer environment for all
As the importance of Emotional Intelligence is increasingly being recognized, Dr. Shaheem’s work is contributing to revolutionizing behavioral effectiveness in the workplace—fighting to eradicate damaging childhood experiences that were once considered an inevitable part of growing up.
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Dr. Shaheem teaches courses such as Global Management, Leading with Personal Impact, and Organizational Behavior to Hult EMBA and MBA, and MIB students. She is a regular contributor to The Huffington Post as well as the Emirati Khaleej Times. She has studied and worked in the USA, Canada, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, and the UK. Shaheem appreciates the importance of cultural relativity and tries to find both similarities as well as significant cultural variations in human cognition, emotions and behavior.
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