Support network mentors female transport workers

The women¿s committee of the Roads and Transport Authority aims to help female colleagues balance family life and work.

From left to right, Hamda al Najjar, Helen Chartouni, Dr Aysha al Busmait, the head of the RTA women’s committee, Hind al Tajir and Amal Sabt discuss their latest initiatives aimed at reaching out to RTA’s 700-odd female employees. Pawan Singh / The National
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DUBAI // A shoulder to lean on, a trusted mentor and a supportive safety net - that is the job description of a network of women that guides and counsels female colleagues within the emirate's transport organisation. The women's committee of the Roads and Transport Authority (RTA) is fast turning into a vital support system within the organisation. It recently opened a Facebook account to reach out to the wider public with information about its activities.

The committee is a rarity in the region, and indeed its members believe it is the only such group within a government entity. Formed four years ago, the committee has become the focus of attention of other government bodies seeking to replicate its initiatives within their own ranks. Dr Aysha al Busmait, who heads the committee, said it sought to foster openness and trust. "We are trying to open minds 360 degrees," she said. "We are trying to show women how to balance their work and family life. In the end we want women to be stronger and more open."

This includes reaching out to the 700-odd women employees who make up 30 per cent of the RTA staff through lectures and seminars about how to deal with their bosses, manage stress at work and juggle motherhood with a career. They have a specialist family counsellor. The committee also runs conferences where leading women professionals share their experiences. These can be viewed on the company's intranet if women employees cannot make it to meetings.

Dr Busmait said empowering women in the workplace takes them beyond the confines of their jobs. "Work is their weapon," she said. "It's not just a matter of earning money, we also try to help their personality, get them to know other people so it opens doors." One recent morning she met her core team, which is drawn from various RTA departments, from strategy to information technology, to discuss new initiatives such as the Facebook page.

The women listened keenly as Helen Chartouni, an RTA projects manager, spoke of the 60-odd comments and questions the site gets each day, ranging from RTA-related queries to job enquiries. "It's very important to publish online," she said. "We get a lot of questions from young women asking about our work." Hind al Tajir, the RTA's strategy and policy manager, pitches in to talk about another initiative of appointing "ambassadors" in various departments to easily reach female employees.

"Some women may not be comfortable talking directly to their managers," she said. "They can immediately pass on messages through the ambassadors. The committee acts as a facilitator to work towards resolving any issue." Recently the committee has started reaching out to other women's groups. This has heralded a chapter where women from other organisations such as Dewa, the land department, the police and municipality have met committee members to discuss the challenges women face at work and to draw up a framework for other similar groups.

"Many come to us because they don't have a women's committee," said Rawdha al Mahrazi, Dr Busmait's deputy. "They come to find out how we work, our vision and strategy and take it back to their organisation to see how it works." Shamsa Salih, the acting chief executive officer of the Dubai Women's Establishment, believes this helps encourage and support working women. "Working women in this part of the world have special needs because of the culture here," she said, referring to the male-dominated staff in most organisations in the Middle East.

"The RTA's women's committee has proved their success with its women's initiatives. This is crucial to increasing the number of women in the workforce." Human resource professionals too backed the initiative. "It's a very impressive advancement," said Jack Montgomery, a senior consultant with Stanton Chase International. "In the West, females can ask their mothers, 'How did you guys deal with this at work?' So to have a female mentor in this culture is a sound development. It's a neutral source within an organisation that they can go to for advice."