x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Etihad opens Al Ain call centre staffed by Emirati women

For 85 Emirati women in Al Ain, a new Etihad Airways call centre means a job that complies with their conservative family traditions, and is possibly the first step to a new career.

Agents such as Habeeba Sayed at Etihad’s new call centre in Al Ain say they are looking forward to a women-only workplace.
Agents such as Habeeba Sayed at Etihad’s new call centre in Al Ain say they are looking forward to a women-only workplace.

Habeeba Sayed's struggle to stand on her own two feet after being divorced and left responsible for her two children has been eased by her first job: working at Etihad Airways' new call centre in Al Ain.

Ms Sayed, 26, is one of 85 Emirati women who officially launched the centre on Tuesday.

Some operations began a month ago at the centre, which employs women only and seeks to provide much-needed job opportunities to women in Al Ain. It receives 800 calls a day. Officials say it will boost Etihad's sales and take a load off the company's three other centres.

Ms Sayed, a public relations graduate working as a call agent, said this job was the first step towards establishing a career, after a long pause in her studies while she was married. She was divorced while pregnant with the couple's second child.

"After I gave birth, my family pushed me to continue studying," she said. "To get accepted at university I had to repeat high school."

After years of hard work, Ms Sayed said, this job would provide her and her son, 10, and daughter, 9, a chance to dream of a better life.

"I already receive an allowance for my children from my ex-husband, but with this job we can start to think of luxury," she said. The job is a good challenge for her, she said. "My next goal is to get promoted."

Ms Sayed is not alone, The centre put an end to a four-year job search for Meera al Bloushi, 24. "I applied to many places, but every time I went, they would say 'we don't have vacancies'. I just sat there doing nothing for four years waiting for an opportunity," she said.

The centre, where no men will be allowed, satisfies "closed" families' concerns about their daughters working side-by-side with men.

"Al Ain society is closed, and people find it difficult to say that their daughters are working in mixed places," Ms al Bloushi said as she walked around the bright lime-and-yellow desks. "Also the atmosphere is great; there is so much space we don't feel squashed at all.

"We also have a canteen, a prayer room, library, a lounge with a TV room because we will be spending eight hours a day … More girls will be joining, so this area will be buzzing soon."

The team leaders Tabiba Awad and Maryam al Shamsi said they cannot wait for the men to be out after training, so they can take off their abayas and veils and dress as they desire.

"You will see me in a miniskirt every day," Ms Awad joked. "When the men leave, you will see the real dressing up," Ms al Shamsi added.

While the department heads understand the commitment challenges that could emerge, they said they had ensured that the centre's operations will not be affected.

"We all come from the same environment and we have experienced the same project, we understand each others' situations and we've been trained to act like one team. If a staff member needs to go on leave for family obligations, we will try to cover for her," Ms Awad said. "The standards are clear, and all the employees are highly committed and understand the importance of fulfilling their roles to reflect a positive image of Emirati women in Al Ain in the workforce."

An Emirati customer service staff will boost sales and satisfaction, said Hareb al Muhairy, the vice president of sales for the UAE at Etihad.

"When an Emirati national picks up the phone, he or she knows the needs of the market. If the caller asks, 'Where shall I go - to Turkey or Lebanon?' an Emirati will be able to guide him better since they share the same cultural interests."