Flexible scheduling is good for the company and better for women

Value women in the workforce by acknowledging they have families and personal lives too.

A mother reads a book to her child at Sharjah Art Museum. Photo Sharjah Art Museum
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Yesterday was International Women’s Day, a day that since 1911 has celebrated the social, political and economic achievements of women while also focusing the world on areas that still require action.

The day is marked all over the world, and there were a host of events held for it in the UAE.

The theme of this year’s holiday was Inspiring Change, a broad theme that encourages the support for women’s advancement in every possible way. It certainly got me thinking.

What am I inspired to change for women, particularly for those I work with day to day in the Middle East? At Hill+Knowlton Strategies we employ about 65 women across our eight offices in the region. And for me, I’m inspired to bring more flexibility to the workplace for my many working mothers.

I am now 25 years into my own career. I have worked in many interesting and wonderful parts of the world, including the United Kingdom, Russia, Poland, Croatia, Slovakia and Turkey, and the past five years of it have been here. My job is interesting, varied, dynamic, full of challenges and opportunities and extremely rewarding, and I greatly enjoy the markets of the Middle East, Turkey and Africa that I oversee for the agency.

I feel incredibly fortunate to have a job from which I get enormous enjoyment and a career that has continued to progress and thrive, while also having a family. But I certainly couldn’t have got to this point without an element of flexibility from my employer and lot of help from my husband. And even with this, it all still remains a busy juggling act.

I therefore fully appreciate that keeping a fruitful and rewarding career going while managing the daily tasks and responsibilities of raising a family is a temporal and logistical challenge for working mothers.

It’s definitely not easy. And because of this I am supportive of flexibility in the workplace to help my working mothers try to achieve a better quality of work-family balance. After all, I would rather find flexible ways to make life work for my best people here in the region, and hold on to them in some capacity, than lose them completely through us being too fixed and structured in our approach. I see flexible working as key to retaining talent and senior counsel in my operation.

About 25 per cent of our female employees are mothers, and we do what we can with flexible hours around school times and nursery. In some cases we’ve even found new opportunities within the agency for them, using their skills in the best way possible while still giving them plenty of time for their families. I was able to work flexible hours for a period after returning to work from maternity leave with my eldest child, so I know the difference it can make. And the benefits aren’t just one-sided – they’re for the company, too, as it retains talent.

The PR industry is known to be dominated by women, perhaps because women are naturally good communicators. Fifty five per cent of our team across the region is female, so the issue of working mothers is a significant one for us. And in this part of the world, too, where talent is always in demand, finding ways to hold on to it is ever more important.

So, wherever possible, we are doing what we can to help our working mums juggle their day-to-day lives, offering them ways to remain in the workplace and enjoy a thriving career while also ensuring they have the time and flexibility to enjoy the enriching journey of motherhood. And I feel that such a flexible approach – an approach already used in many other markets around the world – will only become more crucial as our industry evolves further in this part of the world.

This is one of the ways that I hope to make a difference for women in the Middle East. And we hope other employers are inspired by International Women’s Day to do the same.

Sconaid McGeachin is the president and chief executive of the Middle East, Africa and Turkey at Hill+Knowlton Strategies