DUBAI // Companies in the UAE are beginning to help working mothers balance life and career, but there is room for improvement, human resource experts said yesterday.
Of the 10 companies recently ranked as the best places to work in the UAE, seven offered their employees opportunities such as job sharing, flexitime, telecommuting and unpaid leave, a Dubai seminar on human resources practices was told. And eight of the 10 companies have active anti-discriminatory policies.
Dr Michael Burchell is a partner and director with the Great Place to Work Institute, an international company that sponsored the seminar and which surveyed the companies for the ranking.
He said firms that focused on their employees’ specific needs often fostered the healthiest workplace environments.
However, he added, UAE company policies on working mothers still did not match the sophistication seen in the US and Europe.
HR representatives and managers from the leading companies recognised the importance of a diverse employment pool, but said that labour laws and policies limiting schedule flexibility posed a challenge to accommodating the needs of working mothers.
“The problem in the UAE when it comes to hiring pregnant women is because of the laws, but that’s changing right now,” said Thomas Lundgren, the chief executive of THE One, which ranked sixth on the list.
“The moment this changes so we can start hiring employees part-time, there’s no problem anymore. That’s going to make a huge difference.”
The Ministry of Labour recently introduced part-time labour permits as part of labour law revisions that took effect on January 1.
Top tier employers are striving for new flexible work strategies. Greg Ward, a HR business partner at Microsoft, the top-ranked company on the list, said his company was experimenting with job-sharing.
“The idea is that women can come and share the workload, so that each one would work around 25 hours a week,” Mr Ward said.
Microsoft is also proposing a compressed work schedule. “Nothing says you have to do 40 hours in five days. We’re not focused on the number of hours put in, but on getting the work done [right],” Mr Ward said.
Other top-10 companies said that while they did not offer specific programmes for working mothers, they were flexible in scheduling.
The physical status of a woman being considered for a job was “irrelevant”, said Suha Mardelli, the HR director of Bayt.com. “What’s important is that they understand the commitment they’re walking into, and you as an organisation understand the challenges you might face because of that commitment. You have to maintain flexibility and you have to be open-minded.”
Peggy Chamoun, a senior marketing manager at Bayt.com, has two children and is preparing for her third.
After working most of her life and taking a career break for almost two years, Mrs Chamoun said she felt the need to get back into the workforce. “I felt like there’s something major missing from my life,” she said.
Mrs Chamoun said that after she was approached by Bayt.com, she immediately felt the company’s supportive environment.
“I requested a two-hour daily lunch break to pick my children up from school and sort everything out at home, to which the company was very understanding. But I still get my work done and sometimes I stay a little later if I need to.”
Mrs Chamoun said that she may consider taking a year off when her third child arrives, and the company has left the door open for her return, as long as a suitable opportunity is available. “The most important thing is that you don’t exploit an employer or take advantage of their flexibility.”
The 10 companies in the UAE which the Great Place to Work Institute rated as the UAE’s best places to work were, in this order, Microsoft, Fed Ex, Pepsi, Marriott, Merck Serono, THE One, SHUAA Capital, Bayt.com, Zayed University and Dulsco.
Top 10 companies:
1) Microsoft Gulf FZ LLC 2) Fed Ex 3) Pepsi Co Asia, Middle East & Africa 4) Marriott 5) Merck Serono 6) THE One 7) SHUAA Capital 8) Bayt.com 9) Zayed University 10) Dulsco LLC
1) Microsoft Gulf FZ LLC
2) Fed Ex
3) Pepsi Co Asia, Middle East & Africa
5) Merck Serono
6) THE One
7) SHUAA Capital
9) Zayed University
10) Dulsco LLC