Megha Gupta loves her job at Mackenzie Jones Middle East, where she’d worked her way up in the ranks. The company realized her value and eased her transition back to work after her maternity break. She considers herself lucky. “My manager did everything he could to make it easy for me. Initially, I was allowed to work from home and come to the office once a week. Later, we transitioned to 100% work from the office. However, if my kid was sick, I could choose to work from home. I could even take my kid to the office during the pandemic,” she says.
Not all companies make the environment better for working mothers.
They are often conflicted—they can’t go all out at work and still go all out at home. The struggle is overwhelming, juggling everything—from sending children to school to attending meetings.
Adaptability, responsibility, emotional intelligence, and time management are a few corporate skills she intuitively uses throughout her day. These are in-demand skills that, if listed on a prospective employee’s resume, play a critical role in employers’ decisions about whom they want to hire. Being equipped with this skill set, working mothers, arguably, are imperative for the success of any company. However, skilled mothers need a supportive environment, policies, and flexibility at work, such as forgiving workers’ leaving early to deal with childcare issues.
“A mom-friendly company earns moms who stay loyal to them and ensure a high return on investment. If companies are a little more understanding toward the maternity break gaps on CVs, open toward the work-from-home model, especially when their kids are unwell or have school holidays, would be a game changer,” says Gupta.
Gupta also points out that many companies in the UAE are either not ready to provide the flexibility with a working mother needs or don’t want to hire women with a gap in their CV. However, “the mentality is changing, and employers are open to new ideas.”
Few are taking important steps toward making the working world equitable for moms.
EXPERIENCES AT THE WORKPLACE
Similar to Gupta, Huma Tariq, a mother of two and the director of Analytics and Insights at P&G for over a decade, is grateful to her company for being flexible and providing a work calendar designed around her needs.
“I took two maternity breaks, and, in both cases, my transition was very smooth. After my first child, I had a new manager who designed a customized plan for me to come to work, built around my feeding schedule and long commute. This was the first time I got 100% flexibility to work from home and to go to the office only for critical meetings. For my second child, I returned during the pandemic; hence, 100% work from home with minimal disruption,” says Tariq.
It was a win-win.
In a contrasting experience Irum Tapal, a working mother of a 3-year-old boy, being unable to handle the inflexibility at her workplace, quit her job. “I was burnt out—not sure if it was because I joined work right after giving birth and didn’t take a break, or if [but] the job didn’t have a good work-life balance, or because the pandemic added to the stress,” she says.
Due to a lack of workplace support after having a baby, some nursing mothers have had to express in unsuitable places. Tapal says she was forced to use a toilet to express milk after she returned to work. “I was pumping in the prayer room for the lack of space, or a toilet, which I found gross.”
BETTER AND ACCOMMODATING WORKPLACE POLICIES
Experiencing a similar ordeal, former Wall Street banker Zabeen Mirza launched a platform, jobs.mom, in 2021 for skilled mothers to connect with companies who offer flexible working structures and value work-life balance.
Tariq, a mentor on 60Days Startup, an incubator to launch female businesses lacking access to resources, emphasizes that mothers find it challenging to join back work in the UAE after a maternity break.
“Unlike in their home countries, women don’t have a family support system to look after their newborn child,” she says. “Many companies have no policies to offer mothers flexible work hours and work-from-home options.”
While multinational organizations embrace it, she says that local organizations have a lot of ground to cover. “There need to be strong training programs to make managers and leaders understand the importance of designing careers around women and their life stages, and to eliminate bias and prejudice from the system.”
Apart from design factors that make for better support for nursing mothers, making children feel welcome in the workplace can make a difference. It can also impact working mothers’ relationships with their employers. Investing in family-friendly policies is good for business. Giving mothers adequate time, resources, and services to care for children while staying in their jobs pays off. Studies show that creating an environment that attracts and retains women benefits organizations.
Supportively, the UAE amended its employment law in February this year, offering increased maternity leave and granting more rights, especially to an expectant or new mother.
After reporting back to work from six months of maternity leave, a woman worker is entitled to one or two daily breaks to nurse her child, provided that such a period does not exceed one hour. As the employer is already required to accommodate one or two nursing breaks for the returning mother, it becomes necessary to provide her with an appropriate nursing room.
Women in the UAE have been part of remarkable accomplishments and have been rewarded, rightly so, with greater rights and opportunities. While companies like P&G, Mackenzie Jones ME, and APCO have set exemplary examples of being supportive of working mothers, many more haven’t. Mirza fittingly writes, “As we navigate the uncertainty of these unprecedented times we live in, I recognize that we’re also in a remarkable position where we hold power to shape the future—because the future starts with the women who birth it, the moms who raise it, and the community that nurtures it. It starts with you, me, and all of us”.
Companies need to recognize the value moms bring to the workforce and encourage them in the workplace, especially when many are trapped in low-paid work for family and caring reasons and are not fully using their skills. Well, that’s a story for another day.
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