Supporting new mums back to work in the UAE
By Perihan Abouzeid, CEO & Founder at PeriCare
I firmly believe that there is no leveller like motherhood. Whatever our social status (real or perceived), educational background, nationality, or income – nothing can prepare you for the true reality of parenthood. From our journey to pregnancy, through the 9 months it can feel that everything is out of our hands. Even for those of us who may feel that ‘bloom’ of impending birth, or a relatively easy route to welcoming your new addition.
Irrespective of how we get here, life with a new baby, or subsequent children, certainly turns things on its head, however prepared you feel. With more and more family units requiring a double income or women raising children alone, the need to go back to work after having your children may be a necessity or simply just a continuation of self – you have always worked, and you plan to return.
Except nothing will be quite the same again, and this is why mothers returning to work in the UAE require more support, post pandemic, than ever.
Within two years of your baby’s life, the flood of hormones to the mother’s brain changes the size and structure of the ‘emotional’ cortex of the brain. You’ve heard the term ‘ mom brain’ ? Now imagine going back to work after just six weeks of maternity leave.
This doesn’t mean that a woman is not ready to resume her work, but it is then much more important that she is eased back into her role via a supportive company with a solid maternity programme for returning mothers.
I would love to see organisations work to international standards on maternity care. Laws may be minimal, but that does not mean that private sector organisations cannot implement their own policies and structures around parental leave. Returning to work is the number one barrier to breastfeeding. Believe it or not, breastfeeding is not only good for the mother and child but also the economy.
Reductions in absenteeism, and a significant increase in retention is seen by companies and employers who support new mothers back into work, and that’s not just a case of keeping their jobs open for them.
Helping women access solid maternity leave and processes and supporting them upon return includes offering seemingly ‘micro’ details that are an oversight to many. Mothers returning to work may need time and access to comfortable and sanitary spaces for expressing breast milk for example, or flexible working options around childcare issues or potential sickness within the family.
When women feel supported by their management and peers, the loyalty to the company and the rewards are manifold, and we all know that it is cheaper to retain a good employee than to hire a new one. For every $1 spent by companies on supportive maternity programmes, they stand to earn $3 back – not forgetting that talent retention rises to 67% also.
It was my own negative experience of returning back to corporate life after having my daughter in 2021 that led me onto my new path – supporting mothers wholeheartedly via my fem-tech company PeriCare. Having to pump breast milk in the company toilets as a first-time mother made my decision much easier.
It’s not expensive to support pregnant or new mums in the workplace – It can be as simple as acknowledging and normalising the changes and challenges and communicating with empathy and support. This is the biggest source of stress reduction for the mother in the first instance. Flexible working, even where it is not the norm, can also be an option. Offering appropriate time off for medical appointments is vital, again, no woman should feel a burden simply for expecting a child.
Leaders in the workplace must treat people as humans, and not just resources. Male allies are required – most have female partners or sisters – their own personal experiences must not be left at the office door. Investing even time into this support is a positive start and of course we can go even further with dedicated breastfeeding pods or spaces, and even on-site nurseries and childcare. Health care provision can include packages that support new mothers to include physiotherapy, nutrition and more, the list is endless – again this is about empathy and showing that you truly care for your employees – which affects the bottom line positively.
Back to the male allies, we cannot forget the importance of dads in the whole equation. Mothers cannot ideally do it alone, and the parenthood journey encompasses everyone, with Dads going through a similar process to the mother with regards to parental leave policies in the workplace and the lifestyle adaptation that we all go through.
Supporting new mothers back to work is a true ‘society’ effort, from support within the home and wider family, out into the community and federal level with policies and laws that support alongside, and of course, modern, empathetic leadership in the workplace, whether private or public – for the good of us all, we are in it together.