x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Entrepreneur moms making career strides in the UAE

A new survey has revealed female expatriates are no longer moving to the UAE simply to support their husband's jobs.

Lorena Motalvo Rodriguez, right, and her friend Yesika Suarez Kozma are among women expatriates exploring other opportunities in the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National
Lorena Motalvo Rodriguez, right, and her friend Yesika Suarez Kozma are among women expatriates exploring other opportunities in the UAE. Lee Hoagland / The National

Lorena Montalvo Rodriguez never thought she would own her own business.

In fact, every time her husband urged her to start a nursery to make use of her experience as a teacher, she dismissed him.

But she changed her mind after having her second child, Marc. And it was not a nursery she decided to open, but a business inspired by her experience as a mother.

“I thought about baby carriers and the nice clothes for pregnant women that you cannot find here,” says Mrs Rodriguez, 30, a Spanish native who lives in Abu Dhabi.

“Even for breastfeeding there is no way to find anything [to wear]. You have one top in three different colours and that’s it.”

Six months on, preparations are gathering pace to open her store in Abu Dhabi’s Al Seef Village Mall this November selling maternity clothes, nursing clothes and ergonomic baby carriers.

And Mrs Rodriguez, a so-called “mompreneur”, is one of many women to find opportunity in the UAE, it seems.

A survey of more than 1,100 women from ExpatWoman.com’s 450,000 monthly visitors in May revealed what women think about working in the UAE.

“It was quite fascinating actually because we were unsure whether people were going to be unhappy with work life here or whether they were going to be quite happy with it,” says Gail Livingstone, the general manager of Expatwoman.com “The results on the whole were quite positive.”

Almost half, 48 per cent, felt that moving to the UAE helped them explore their talents in new ways, and a further 23 per cent viewed the move here as having a positive effect on their lives at work. However, 29 per cent felt it had restricted their ability to find their potential or held them back.

The majority of women questioned did not think their opportunities here had been limited by being female, with 52 per cent answering “not at all”. However one fifth of women thought they had “to some extent”.

And a worrying 13 per cent of women said they had been subjected to personal harassment or abuse at work, a figure almost double compared to their home countries. The number of women who had experienced sexism in the workplace in the UAE compared to their home countries was almost double.

However, when it comes to finances, 61 per cent of those surveyed said that they earn more in the UAE than at home.

And there was a 57 per cent increase in those who identified themselves as directors or owners in the UAE compared to their home countries, like Mrs Rodriguez.

“You could really see how Dubai has changed. Before it was very much the husband as the main breadwinner, they were coming with the family or maybe not with the family and the wife was typically not working or maybe doing some volunteering or charity work,” says Ms Livingstone. “But now, a lot of younger women are moving over here and she’s moving over here independently and she’s moving over here for her career as well.”

A career as a nanny is what originally brought Mrs Rodriguez here to the UAE in 2006. And she is not alone among her friends in that regard. Her friend, Yesika Suarez Kuzma, 33, also moved to the UAE to work in 2009, in her case as a chemical engineer.

She got pregnant with her first child, Luke, in 2010 and returned to work when he was 11 months. Her second son, Santiago, was born in late November and she returned to work in early July.

“My ideal scenario would be to go back as part time because I do want to go back and do my job because you kind of miss it and as they grow they become more independent and want to do other things,” she says. “Part time would be my preference but you can’t do it.”

The lack of part-time opportunities was a lament echoed by a significant number of women in the survey.

“There were quite a lot of comments about having to leave work from people who have had a baby, so I think that there’s an opportunity there for businesses to look at how they are handling maternity,” says Ms Livingstone.

“Individual companies can actually do more for new mothers to make their maternity leave longer and maybe offer more flexible working hours as well after someone has had a baby. A lot of mothers are having to leave work because there’s not that flexibility there. I think that’s a shame.”


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