Rise of flexible working paves way for more mums returning to work

Success of working from home during the pandemic causes companies to rethink best practices

UAE employers are looking to hire more part-time staff, with returning mothers deemed the perfect candidates, experts said.

Companies previously reluctant to offer flexible working conditions are now rethinking strategies after the success of home working during the pandemic.

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Employers hold it against women who take a break from the workplace to have children

It is especially good news for mothers, who were often the first to lose jobs or suffer pay cuts when companies reduced costs.

A perception of working mothers being less committed than others due to family responsibilities was often misguided, according to Zabeen Mirza, founder of jobs.mom, a website helping women back into work.

“It wasn’t just a recession, it was a ‘she-cession’, as mothers were the first to go when companies were cutting costs because they were seen as less committed because they had to manage child care with work," said Ms Mirza.

Zabeen Mirza, founder of jobs.mom, says it took the pandemic to make companies realise that flexible working conditions improve productivity. Courtesy: jobs.mom

“The challenges facing women and mothers getting back into the workplace are numerous and not unique to the UAE.

“Employers hold it against women who take a break from the workplace to have children."

Ms Mirza said 6,000 mothers from the UAE signed up for her website – which was launched last week – in its first seven days.

“Mums are perceived as being out of touch, unskilled, not up to date, and not as well versed in current trends and industry knowledge which is just untrue," she said.

Almost a third of women in the UAE believe requiring flexible working hours is viewed by employers as a sign of being less committed than other employees, according to a LinkedIn survey released this year.

The study said women were socially conditioned to feel less entitled than men, which resulted in an "entitlement gap" hindering their career progression.

Almost two-thirds of women (65 per cent) said having children had an effect on their career progression.

Fiza Pasha, founder of Brulee Beauty, says companies are missing out if they discriminate against women who have commitments outside of work. Courtesy: Brulee Beauty

While the majority of women (56 per cent) felt the pandemic resulted in them taking on more responsibilities than their partners at home.

Ms Mirza said it took the pandemic to make companies realise that flexible working conditions improved productivity.

“The pandemic has served as a proof of concept that flexible working conditions are actually profitable,” she said.

“It improves performance, motivation and retention of staff. Not being able to have flexible working before was another hurdle that had been put in front of women by their employers.”

She said the more successful companies embraced the flexible working model, while those that had not were now left floundering.

Ms Mirza also praised the UAE government for the efforts it had made in promoting opportunities for women in the workplace.

"The UAE has done an incredible job in not just paying lip service to women in the workplace and has enshrined policies into law that are creating a more agile and flexible culture," she said.

“The infrastructure is incredible and it’s up to employers to catch up.”

One recruiter in Dubai said attitudes to flexible working are shifting, with women now more in demand as companies understand flexible working does not hinder productivity.

“Most of the companies that we work with now are open to remote working and even encourage it,” said Waleed Anwar, managing director of Upfront HR and Recruitment.

"This shift has opened up a door of opportunity for women in the workplace, especially working mums who no longer have to leave their jobs to continue family duties."

Employers were spending less time worrying about hiring female employees in case they needed to grant maternity leave or flexible hours, he said.

“They are definitely more focused on the quality and experience of the candidate and increasing their diversity within their companies rather than looking at reasons not to hire women,” said Mr Anwar.

One employer said companies were missing out if they were discriminating against women who had commitments outside of work.

“If I hire someone who is a mum then I know they are going to be responsible,” said Fiza Pasha, founder of Dubai company Brulee Beauty.

“The mums I have hired in the past have always known they only had a limited amount of time to work so used that time wisely.

“Being a mum makes you driven and when mums want to get back into the workplace you know they are going to be completely focused.”