UAE women find freedom and control as they go their own way in business

Much is made of the glass ceiling in the workplace, with the debate over whether women have broken through or not still raging. But what if women are no longer interested in breaking any ceilings and are choosing to create whole new environments for themselves instead?

In a new trend, women are leaving secure, full time employment, not because they are starting families, but because they want greater freedom and control over their careers and see working for themselves as the way to achieve this.

Shelina Jokhiya, from the UK, who has been in Dubai for 10 years, left her job as a solicitor and in-house legal counsel more than two years ago to set up Decluttr Me, a professional organising consultancy. “I had been working for corporations since I left university and had got as I high as I could go in my position,” says Ms Jokhiya. “The job was becoming monotonous and I’d always dreamt of starting my own business, so I decided to take the plunge.”

The advantages are numerous when you work for yourself adds Ms Jokhiya, who enjoys flexible hours, not reporting to anyone but herself and freedom to work how she chooses.

The autonomy to pursue new opportunities and the chance to expand her skill set are the reasons Anna Roberts set up Nudge, a communications business specialising in public speaking and media training last year.

“I can say yes to projects that I couldn’t previously commit to due to time constraints,” says Ms Roberts, 28, a former radio presenter, who is from New Zealand and moved to the UAE with her family in 1994.

“I also have the freedom to be location-independent and more time to be able to dedicate to my health and fitness.”

Anna Yates, a psychotherapist and life coach from Mind Solutions says success for women is measured in different ways.

“It’s not just about earning a big salary or getting your own office in a big company. The flexibility to plan your own work and develop your career is increasingly appealing to women of all ages, not just those with children,” she adds.

Australian expat Claire Harris, 29, a former marketing manager who has been in the UAE for five years, decided to go it alone last year to set up Rep, a marketing solutions agency.

“Freelancers like myself can help businesses streamline their marketing activities during high peak times, which is a much more cost-effective way of working when compared with having a full-time employee,” says Ms Harris.

While freedom and control over your career are the highlights of working for yourself, there are drawbacks.

Ms Roberts says not having a set amount coming in monthly has made her more budget-conscious, though she stresses: “I certainly don’t go without”. She finds chasing up payments stressful too.

For Ms Jokhiya, working longer hours, worrying about income and getting the next client are the downsides of working for herself.

“But I keep a paper trail and work out contracts for projects to protect myself,” she says. “Sometimes I’ll have a busy week followed by a few days that are slow, but it enables me to make the most of my time and have the freedom to juggle things as I see fit. Even though the current economic climate is uncertain, I’m not concerned about it as I believe my vast experience enables me to offer real value to clients.”

Ms Harris says her hurdle is managing without the support system typically found in large organisations.

“I missed having a skilled support structure to go to for advice and guidance,” she explains. “This has pushed me to actively self-learn and to seek out different ways to improve and grow professionally’.

While none of the women cite issues with their employer as reasons for quitting full-time employment, business owners should note that the key reasons for wanting to start their own businesses were greater flexibility and control over their careers.

“There is no reason that being employed by someone else and having flexibility over your career should be mutually exclusive,” says life coach Ms Yates. “Women make up half of the population and are often highly skilled with many years of experience. To continually lose these talented individuals through a lack of tailoring to employee needs can be detrimental to any organisation.”

Ultimately, choosing your own path can boost your overall well-being says Ms Jokhiya. “I’m not ill any more and I get to do what I love.”


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