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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 14 November 2018

UAE women tell of struggles of returning to work after children

Women often lack confidence and can suffer from guilt about their decision to leave their children with a nanny or in childcare, say experts

Tennis star Serena Williams has spoken openly of the challenges she faced in getting back on court after becoming a mum for the first time. AFP     
Tennis star Serena Williams has spoken openly of the challenges she faced in getting back on court after becoming a mum for the first time. AFP     

Chidimma Ikegwuonu suffers from a worry that is all too common among mothers returning to work.

After taking three years off to have children she wants to go back – but fears that she will not be able to compete with other job seekers.

“Finding work has been quite daunting to say the least,” said Ms Ikegwuonu, from Nigeria, who works in the UAE.

“Sometimes I worry that having been away from work to have time to focus on my family and raising my child myself is the reason why I can’t get back in the market to compete now that I am ready to.”

According to a study from Harvard Business Review, 43 per cent of highly qualified women leave work after having children.

Many like Ms Ikegwuonu ultimately decide to go back. However, experts say women face numerous challenges when looking to return to work after a break.

Women’s recruitment firm Hopscotch is all too aware of the issues women face and recently teamed up with Nestle and international training company, PCA, to hold an upskilling, networking and training event in Dubai for 50 women to address some of their concerns.

The training session, called Returning to Work: Setting up for Success, was held this month and aimed to help women overcome issues related to self-confidence by teaching them how to network and build their brand.

“For a lot of women the main problem is with self-confidence because they feel because they haven’t been working in two years or three years or four years they are not sure what to expect,” said Sanjana Kumar, regional manager of Hopscotch.

“Some other factors we’ve heard is that they believe they aren’t good enough due to their break and there will always be others more qualified.”

Guilt about leaving their child in the care of others is another common concern among mums returning to work, said Lynn Al Khatib, who is the head of media relations and internal communications at Nestle, which participated in the event.

The debate over 'mum guilt' was thrust into the spotlight recently by tennis champion Serena Williams, who spoke candidly about her struggles returning to action and finding a balance between travelling the globe in pursuit of titles and being the best parent she can be.

“We did a lot of internal research to understand better what women’s challenges are,” said Ms Al Khatib.

“Our objective is not to have special treatment for women or mums. It’s about enabling the right working conditions for everyone to succeed in their career equally.”

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Mums often feel the process of going back overwhelming, she said. They can feel they will be judged by their coworkers for taking time out for their children, which is not necessarily the case, but is still a real concern for the mother, said Ms Al Khatib.

“In that sense it was very important to have the right conditions. So first we [Nestle] implemented flexible working conditions for everyone, men and women. As long as people deliver their results we want them to be as smart and focused in the environment as they can be,” said Ms Al Khatib.

The Swiss company also implemented a series of policies to encourage women to return to work, such as the option to work from home in the month before the delivery and generous maternity leave consisting of three months’ paid leave and up to a further six months’ unpaid break. It also installed comfort rooms in all its premises to allow mums to pump their milk so they can continue breastfeeding as long as they chose to.

“A lot of things were done to encourage the right conditions at work for everyone to choose whether they want to go forth in their career or take it easy. It is a personal choice in the end,” said Ms Al Khatib.

Experts say such companies, that go out of their way to make it easier for mums to return to work, also benefit. Not only are they able to hold on to a valued employee, they often return to work with additional skills.

Ms Ikegwuonu agrees.

“I believe I am returning to the work place a better employee than I was before I became a mum,” she said.

“I have learned now to pay much closer attention to the minutest details that could easily have been overlooked. I am more resilient, and I have someone to fight for, to be my best every day because I know that I must set the right example for my little one to follow.”