Being a working mum is tough as you have to carefully balance your personal and professional life. Last year, The National reported that 73% of UAE mums were struggling to balance their professional and personal lives. After all, leaving your child at home for 8 hours a day is not easy. That’s why many mothers choose to put their careers on hold or consider getting part-time jobs.

Many UAE mums decide to dedicate a few years to their children to give them as much attention and time as possible in their early years.  Once your child is a couple of years old and a bit more independent, or attending one of the nurseries in UAE, you are probably thinking of going back into the workforce to continue what you put on hold. Some mums have no choice due to financial reasons and others want a thriving career or both. However, to their surprise, it was not as easy as they thought.

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Alia (name changed) explains “I took a few months off after my second child and now wish to go back to work. Even though I have the right qualifications, experience and attitude, I am not getting call backs for interviews.”

Many employers appear to be reluctant in taking on mums as Naomi (name changed) gives us her experience, “It was really hard to find a job because I was in a niche market and employers seemed to have a problem with the fact that I had taken a break to be with the baby. They wanted to know what support I had at home etc. There was a general “keep off” attitude.”

Leila faced the same issue with employers asking questions about the children and how they would be taken care of and the timings of her work.

[Related: The cost of hiring a maid in the UAE – and the legalities of part-time help]

Mums coming back from maternity seemed to also face hurdles in their jobs even only after a few months and it was more the fact that they needed a bit more flexibility in work hours especially in the first year.  “Even coming back from maternity leave seemed to be a problem. I am allowed one hour a day for nursing by UAE law, but my employer was very clear that I should not be taking that hour. HR even suggested I use the toilet to express milk instead of going home. It became too much to handle with me having to do overtime and decided to quit.”

Sarah felt the change even before going on maternity. “I felt like I had to work harder just to prove that being pregnant was not affecting my job. People looked at me differently and I wanted to make sure that there was no reason for my performance review to be any different. I feel quite sick for the first three months but I had to bear it pretending nothing was wrong as I did not want my colleagues or employers to think I could do a lesser job.”

The Souqalmla.com team tried to get in touch with 4 different recruitment agencies to discuss the hurdles and situation of going back to work after 2 years out but none of them bothered to return the phone call.  We were asked to go on the website and find a job that was suited for us. No help, no advice and no support.

Going back to work on a part time basis

Not necessarily the easiest of all options as part time jobs are not readily available in the UAE. A poll conducted in 2012 by the Dubai Women Establishment (DWE) revealed that 62.5% of Emirati women were reluctant to work as they didn’t have the choice of flexible work hours. The study further revealed that 91% of women believed that having flexible work strategies would increase their productivity.

If you are in a niche or very competitive market, part-time maybe very hard to find. “I was a radio reporter before and with only few stations in the UAE, it took me 6 to 8 months before I found something good,” explains a UAE mom.

As it is such a great option for mums who have not been working for a couple of years and are looking to slowly find their way back into the workforce, it is worth looking at how you can make part time hours work for you:

–          Freelancing – If you have the right skills and you believe you can work on a freelance basis, you can first of all put the word out to all your networks on LinkedIn or Facebook and let them know you are open to take on project work.  There are international sites such as Elance.com and Odesk.com where you can find projects from all over the world or our local grown Nabbesh.com can help you find freelance jobs in the UAE.

–          Your own online store: If you want to start your online store without any IT knowledge and you have the products, you can easily set up an online store on Shopify.com or Bigcommerce.com

–          Teach: If you are into teaching, there are options where schools need replacement for full time staff – great hours which coincide with the kids schooling hours as well. Even better, set up your own classes where you tutor music or languages.

–          Start-ups: Approach start-ups and offer your qualifications – SMEs and starts-ups are always looking for an extra pair of hands and would be a lot more flexible on the timing and the hours.

The legality of working part-time

You can legally work part-time in the UAE while remaining under your husband’s sponsorship. You have to get a No Objection Certificate from your husband/sponsor, giving you permission to work. However, make sure you are working for an employer who is registered with the government.

In the UAE, you can apply for special permits which allow you to work on short-term projects, part-time or as a freelancers. As reported by Emirates 24/7 UAE has been issuing part-time permits since 2011. Since then approximately 11,000 part-time permits have been issued.

To apply for a part-permit, you have to be below the age of 65 and have a valid visa. Women living under the sponsorship of their parents, husband and kids are eligible to apply. Government workers and students who are 18 years and above can also apply.

The permit costs AED 500 and is valid for one year. However, your employer should bear the cost of the permit and the amount should not be subtracted from your salary.

Remember, that even if you are a part-time employee, the UAE labor laws still applies to you. This means you are entitled to standard employee benefits such as paid sick leave and gratuity just like full time employees.

Currently, the paid maternity leave is set at 60 days for government employees and 45 days for private sector employees who have been working in a company for a whole year. However, The National reported that parents consider this time period to be too short for mothers to adjust to having a new baby at home. That’s why many moms opt to take a break or look for part-time work. In fact, in a study conducted by The Dubai Women Establishment, out of 39 countries, UAE had only eight countries which ranked lower on maternity leave length.

Working moms can take an additional 100 days on top of their current maternity leave granted they provide evidence that it’s due to a medical illness. However these additional days will not be paid for.

Make sure you are set up properly before going on leave to ease the way back

With all the late nights, stress of being new parents and so much to think about, we tend to completely get ourselves out of the market and forget to keep in touch with our network. Here are some ways to make sure that even during your gap year, you keep being on people’s mind:

  • Before going on leave, make sure that you have all the right people connected on LinkedIn where you can easily stay in touch online. Stay updated on how your contacts are moving in their careers.
  • If you can, try and take up part-time, freelance or even volunteer work with start-ups a few months into the gap year which gives you flexibility but also allows you to stay in touch with the corporate world.
  • Make sure your CV on LinkedIn is always up to date with the freelance jobs or volunteer projects you are working on. Recruiters use LinkedIn consistently to identify potential candidates. Update your CV and LinkedIn profile and do plenty of networking. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn and Facebook to expand your search.
  • Speak with recruitment consultants and keeps your eyes out for job postings on online recruitment websites such as Bayt or Gulf Talent.
  • Ideally stay in touch with people you used to work with or talk to your previous employer about possible job openings when you come back.

Even though the process may be tiresome, with some determination and confidence you can be successful. Take the example of Joanna who shared her experience with us, “I was a stay at home mum for 6 years because my son was not ready to get along with anyone else. But after he began school, I felt lonely and needed to go back to work. I took it step by step. I started taking business and language classes. I got involved in community events where I would organize competitions for kids. This increased my confidence and eventually motivated me to open my own arts and skill development center for women and kids.”

How to handle going back to work

If you are going back to work, whether is it full time or part-time, make sure you child is comfortable with the idea. Emotionally prepare yourself to the fact that someone else will be looking after your baby while you’re at work. Figure out all the logistics, for example will you hire a nanny or choose day care? How many hours will you need additional help? How much time will you spend travelling back and forth?

The Dubai Municipality has taken steps to make life easier for working moms in the UAE. Last September, Emirates 24/7 published an article stating that the Dubai Municipality had opened the British Orchard Nursery at its headquarters. Working moms could now get some peace of mind with their little ones in trusted care just a few minutes away. Such initiatives are meant to motivate moms to remain in the UAE workforce while increasing their productivity.