UAE recruiters call for back to work 'returnships' for women

Experts said many female employees found it hard to find jobs following career breaks

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 25, 2019: Despo Michaelides, AXA Insurance. Panel discussion on women and the challenges they face at work. Monday, November 25th, 2017 at Rove Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Businesses across the UAE are still reluctant to hire women wanting to return to work following career breaks, experts said on Monday.

Recruiters in the country called for the introduction of more ‘returnships’, a term used to describe jobs for individuals looking to re-enter the workforce.

Speaking at the Global Women's Forum Dubai on Sunday, Sheikha Manal bint Mohammed, president of the UAE Gender Balance Council, addressed the same issue.

She urged private sector companies to increase their efforts to employ more women in order to boost gender parity in the UAE.

In an interview with The National, Despo Michaelides, chief human resources officer at AXA Insurance Gulf, acknowledged a greater focus on getting women back into work was required.

When you're going back to work, it's very important you understand your value and can translate that in a positive way

“There is a reluctance to take people back who have not worked for a while and I do not know why,” she said.

“When you’re going back to work, it’s very important you understand your value and can translate that in a positive way.

“Women are not at very good at marketing themselves. We interact and make connections, but do not leverage those connections.”

A UAE Human Development Report published last year showed the Emirates had made significant strides in increasing employment opportunities since the 1970s.

The country’s total labour force rose from about 300,000 in 1975 to more than 6.4 million in 2015, an average growth of about 7.7 per cent.

Research also found the number of Emirati women in the workplace had risen from 1,000 in 1975 to about 135,000 in 2015 – an increase of 135 times in four decades.

By comparison, figures for men showed a five-fold increase, from 44,000 in 1975 to about 207,000 in 2015.

Last week, Louise Karim, managing director at Women@Work, a career platform, also raised the point of UAE employers missing out on “untapped talent”.

She said that while returnship programmes were common in the United States and the UK, the UAE lacked similar schemes.

"In this market and in this region not enough has not been done regarding this problem," she told The National.

"Employers are not looking for people who have been out of the workplace, but they are missing out on massive untapped talent.

"We are trying to create opportunities for women who want to return to work, but there is not enough of these.

“Organisations need to change their mindset. It’s not just a case of putting women in the workplace, but having policies and procedures to support women in the workplace.”

Recent statistics for the UAE have shown a significant drop in women's participation in the workplace once they hit their thirties.

A report in 2017 showed 67 per cent of foreign residents and 58 per cent of women were employed in the 25-29 age group.

But that figure fell steadily through the thirties and was 56 per cent for residents and 43 per cent of Emiratis in the 45-49 age group.

Essaivani Pillay, 45, a South African mother with an eight-year-old child, said she had moved to Dubai in 2017. She was among a number of women at an event organised by Axa Insurance and Women@Work held last week.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates - November 25, 2019: Louise Karim, Managing director of Women@Work. Panel discussion on women and the challenges they face at work. Monday, November 25th, 2017 at Rove Hotel, Abu Dhabi. Chris Whiteoak / The National

The finance worker took a career break after having a baby and now hopes to work in business development.

“I do think there is a tendency to overlook someone who has not worked for a little while,” she said.

“They may not exclude you completely, but it is definitely not on the plus side. I think we need returnship programmes in order to close that gap.

“There are many women who have no opportunity to go back to work.”

Nicoleta Mocranschi, 41, from Romania, said she had a two-year-old daughter and was currently looking for a job in the Emirates.

Previously, until she became a mother, she had worked remotely for a company in her home country.

“My company wanted me to move back to Romania but I couldn’t as my family is here," she said.

“You have to work hard to find the right organisation to give you a chance [in the UAE]."