In a country as dependent on a skilled workforce as this one, it might seem obvious that companies would cast their nets far and wide when making hiring decisions. Sadly, when it comes to female candidates with children, many UAE firms are doing just the opposite.
As we report today, over two-thirds of all companies say they will not increase the number of working mothers on their staff this year, citing fears that mums will shirk professional duties in favour of family. According to research by Regus, a global business consulting firm, employers' primary concern is flexibility, and a persistent worry they will be left short-staffed.
Flexibility in hiring, and maintaining a consistent pool of able bodies, are obvious priorities for any company. But it is also shortsighted to suggest women with children are not able to manage careers. Pushing aside qualified female candidates not only damages competitiveness of individual companies, is also perpetuates stereotypes that hurt a nation's ability to attract top-talent.
"If companies want to remain competitive...they need to shed the old mindset," says May al Dabbagh, the director of the gender and public policy programme at the Dubai School of Government. "It is clear that outdated work models are detrimental to a company in the long term."
Ms al Dabbagh says: "If employers want to recoup their investment in women and retain them for the long term, they need to better appreciate how much turnover and job dissatisfaction can be driven by non-work factors."
UAE-based firms are not alone in their myopic hiring policies. Only 36 per cent of the 10,000 companies surveyed worldwide said they planned to makes offers to working mothers, down from 44 per cent last year. Such policies are not universal. Norway, for instance, provides paid maternity leave of up to a year. And yet, outmoded approaches do tend to be the rule.
Officials here have begun to address some of the larger concerns working mothers face. Last month, for instance, leaders in Sharjah extended maternity leave time to 60 days, and inked a new law making it easier for women to nurse their babies once they return to work. The rest of the country should consider similar moves.
At its most fundamental, though, it is the nation's firms that must take up the mantle themselves. Excluding such an important slice of the labour force is not only unwise. It's dangerously short-sighted.