And baby came too: nurseries opening up at UAE workplaces

Workplace crèches and nurseries with extended opening hours are springing up in the UAE, making it easier for mothers to cope when they first return to work.

Samantha McClements, the nursery group director at Kids Academy, in Khalifa City A in Abu Dhabi. Ravindranath K / The National
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At the head office of Etihad Airways in Khalifa City, eight-month-old Maitha Smith plays in her airplane-shaped nursery room, with fluffy clouds hanging from the sky blue ceiling and windows resembling those in a cockpit. Etihad opened the aviation-themed nursery for staff children in September. Maitha’s Australian mum Alyssa Smith, 27, is a partnership officer for the Etihad Guest loyalty programme.

“It was a great relief when I found out Etihad were opening the nursery,” says Ms Smith. “Otherwise, it would have meant a much longer commute to work. The nursery allows me to have a successful career and family life.”

Mrs Smith drops Maitha at the facility every weekday at 7.30am. She lives in Al Reef, a five-minute commute from her workplace, and is now able to start work two minutes after saying goodbye to Maitha, knowing she’ll be just across the road.

“I could visit my daughter within working hours. But she’s in a routine now which I don’t like disturbing. I’ve taken the extra hour that I get off for breastfeeding at the end of the day, so I can finish work early.”

The nursery, which is operated by Kids Academy, is open 7am until 5.30pm, and also offers an out-of-hours “stay and play” crèche service until 8.30pm and at weekends.

Workplace crèches are a godsend for working mothers looking to juggle a high-flying career with the demands of parenthood.

Kieny Watts loved her job as a business development professional in Australia but admits it was a struggle to balance the job with her other role as mum to her young daughter Natalie.

“She went to a nursery that opened at 8am and closed at 6pm. I always felt stressed in my last meetings of the day, worrying whether I might get stuck in traffic.

“It’s so hard for mums going back to work – there’s so much pressure, and you have to balance it all out.”

When Ms Watts, 51, moved to Dubai in 2008, she decided to set up her own nursery in DIFC to accommodate working mums like herself, who didn’t want to risk losing their place on the career ladder because they’d chosen to have a family. Hummingbird Early Learning Centre stays open longer than any other nursery in the UAE, throughout the year from Sunday to Thursday 7am to 7pm, and one Friday a month. It incorporates a nursery for babies aged two months to two, preschool from the age of two, and an after-school service for children aged up to seven.

“I always say to parents ‘if you are going to be late, that’s fine. Because I know what it’s like myself,’” says Ms Watts, who has seen her business grow from one branch with five employees to its existing staff of 60.

The DIFC location has helped it to thrive, as the majority of mothers dropping off are lawyers and bankers based in the same building. “They choose us over leaving their children with their maid who is not trained in early years education, because they want their children to achieve,” says Ms Watts.

Renata Rai’s decision to return to her job as a lawyer when her six-month maternity leave ends next month was made easier knowing her daughter Eliya will be at Hummingbirds Nursery, downstairs from her company’s DIFC office.

“Eliya will only be six months old, which is still so little to me to be leaving her,” says Ms Rai. “Knowing that I can just nip downstairs if I’m feeling a bit bereft – that makes it easier to face going back.”

Mrs Watts is opening a new branch of Hummingbirds soon in another corporate hub – Bay Square, in Dubai’s Business Bay.

Nearby in Burj Downtown, children can be dropped off at Jumeirah International Nursery from 7.30am until 7pm all year round.

Other nurseries geared up for high-flying mums are springing up thanks to the Dubai-based childcare development company Bidayaat. Its services include corporate crèche feasibility studies, and part of their ethos is to support the UAE’s Vision 2021, which calls for “support to enable all women to combine their contribution to industry and commerce, while embracing the joys of family life”.

Bidayaat opened the year-round nursery Little Haven in Al Mushrif, Abu Dhabi earlier this year, which is open 8am to 6pm. In Dubai, it opened Kensington Nursery in Silicon Oasis and Curious Minds in Al Safa, both open 7.30am to 6pm.

Other UAE employers also provide their own on-site nurseries. Abu Dhabi Police, Zayed University, Dubai Customs, TransAD and Dubai Islamic Bank have all opened workplace nurseries in recent years.

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