Help is here to put UAE mums back into the workforce

When Erin Thomas Wong moved to Abu Dhabi eight months ago, she initially thought she might take a career break.

Being a mum to two young boys and a business owner back in the UK, her move to the UAE for her husband’s job seemed a good opportunity to relax and take some time off.

Except it very quickly became boring.

“I really missed doing the business stuff and it was quite hard to still keep involved because I am so far away. Even though I can still do stuff online it’s not the same because it is all very much face to face,” says Briton Ms Thomas-Wong, 36, of her UK business Ealing Mums in Business, which she runs with a friend. It offers a range of services including social media and management training.

After failing to find part-time work here, she decided to do what she knows best – to set up another business. In this case, her fourth. Her other entrepreneurial ventures include a franchise of a jewellery keepsake company, which she has since sold, and Pitter Patter – which offers classes for toddlers and babies in London.

“In the time I was running Ealing Mums in Business, lots of people said I would love to run my business but I have no idea of where to start, so I thought I could set up this website and tell people about the training that is out there and give people some inspiration to show there are opportunities for you to run businesses online.”

Making Mumpreneurs, Ms Thomas-Wong’s resource website which helps women build digital businesses, is one of three companies to launch in the UAE in recent weeks designed to entice women back into the workforce. Their success so far shows just how big the appetite is for the service here.

Hopscotch, a recruitment company that matches professional women seeking flexible working options with companies looking for short-term hires, has attracted hundreds of CVs since it launched at the start of April. It has hired two of them on a flexible basis and expects to place its first women in roles by the end of the week.

“We have had way over 1,000 CVs so far and the number just keeps ticking up. Two in the morning, three in the morning. It doesn’t matter what time it is,” says Helen McGuire, 36, from the UK, who cofounded the company after enrolling on a photography course which was full of other mums during her maternity leave.

She knew there was an appetite for the service after conducting a survey in the UAE which found that 76 per cent of mums had not returned to work because of a lack of flexible options. But even she was surprised at the response. Companies have also embraced Hopscotch, a subsidiary of the recruiter MCG Associates.

“We have had interest from multinational companies like MasterCard right down to a lady who operates a human resources company who just needs someone at the front desk,” says Ms McGuire. “We know from the applications that it is really across the board – everyone from very senior heads of department to someone who wants to get back into sales in more of a call centre environment perhaps.”

Rival female recruiter Mums@Work launched within days of Hopscotch but has been in the planning for years. The idea for it came from a conversation David Mackenzie, the managing director of recruiter Mackenzie Jones, had with a high-flying female lawyer friend.

“She has children and was saying why can’t you get me a job? I need flexibility. Why can’t you do this?” says Louise Karim, 39, from the UK, the cofounder of Mums@Work.

“It got him thinking. There are a lot of mums out there. There is a whole untapped talent who don’t go back to their careers after having children because this marketplace doesn’t really cater for them as it does in some other countries such as the UK, the US and even Asia.”

Mums@Work has set up more than 60 meetings with multinationals and says it is close to confirming a number of roles. It has also attracted thousands of CVs in the few weeks since its launch and has received interest from local companies, though not everyone buys into the concept.

“Some companies get the idea straight away. Some of them just need a little bit of education to explain to them about the great untapped resource that people are not using because they are not providing that flexibility,” says Ms Karim.

Indeed, according to recent research from the World Bank, if as many women were in work as men it would add 5 per cent to the UAE’s economy.

Ms Thomas-Wong wants to help make that happen but she has no intention of stopping at the UAE.

“At the moment I am concentrating on Abu Dhabi and also my networks back home. But it is absolutely my aim to make it global.”

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