“Can you manage family with work?” This had been a question that Dubai resident Priyanka Sengar was asked constantly at every job interview she appeared for. It did not matter that she had a good 14 years of experience in sales in India and UAE. It did not matter that she worked for top companies. The fact that Priyanka had other identities apart from being an employee — that of a mother, of a wife — almost always led prospective employers to tread into these areas.
As compared to men, women have been late entrants into the workforce. It also doesn’t help that societally they are not expected to work for a living, and if they do, they are expected to manage home and work to the best of their abilities. As a result, what we are left with are half-baked notions about women at work, without factoring in that they can be just as competent as their male counterparts.
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Sensing a need to thwart these notions and catering to the needs of women from different nationalities, who either leave their jobs in their home countries to join their spouses as they move to UAE for work or simply take a career break following motherhood, the 36-year-old Dubai resident has started what is UAE’s first women-only job portal, Women First Jobs. Reflecting back on the time when she would be denied projects because her superiors felt Priyanka’s male colleagues could do the job better, she remembers feeling a deep sense of inadequacy.
“I would constantly feel that maybe I am not the right person for the job. I was among a handful of women in a team of 25 men. I switched companies thinking that I would be valued more in another organisation. But this streak remained. There was a fear that if I did decide to have children, the work would be put on hold,” she says. This, despite her family always being supportive of her ambition. “I never could understand why there existed a pay gap between a man and a woman for the same role. Why women were not even considered for certain jobs? So many people talk about diversity, but no one gives you the opportunity to make the most of your skill sets.”
Women First Jobs, that began its ground work last year and has seen fruition this year as a registered company, is Priyanka’s way of tackling these questions that change women’s career trajectories. Not only does the portal list out white collar jobs for women, a very special initiative is to have those who have taken career breaks to return to the workplace. “Women take more career breaks than men,” says Priyanka. “If I give birth to a child and my maternity leave is over and I cannot afford help, what choice am I really left with?”
The key, says Priyanka, is in keeping yourself upskilled even when you are not working. This also includes learning to market yourself in a changing work environment and learning how to tailor your CV accordingly. For example, even if you are not part of a workforce, you can upskill by learning new technologies. “Whenever there is a client that comes to us with suitable positions, we prioritise those resumes of women who have taken a break. We mentor them, put their CVs across. If they get selected, it’s good. If they don’t get selected, the process is repeated with a different company,” says Priyanka, who herself has employed women with career breaks in her company. “We also make companies understand how important it is to bring such women back into the corporate world.” Women First Jobs is also helping companies achieve their Emiratisation and diversity goals. Priyanka says this is owing to a robust database of female Emirati candidates. “We train them and groom them for job interviews and tailor their resumes. This way, a company is able to tick the diversity and Emiratisation box,” says Priyanka.
Women First Jobs comes to the UAE at a time when DEI — diversity, equity and inclusion — have become important workplace goals globally and in companies across the region as well. It is believed that having DEI goals enables an organisation to improve their adaptability, achieve financial growth and enhance employee engagement. A traditional line of thinking suggests that merit can take a backseat at the altar of achieving these goals.
It could not be further from the truth. “DEI does not impact merit,” says Priyanka. “Whenever a company hires a candidate, they may be looking at a goal of hiring 50 per cent men and 50 per cent women, but they will not settle for unskilled professionals at the end of the day. Even now for every Dh50,000 job, you will find seven men fighting for it as opposed to three women.” The challenge, however, is in changing the mindset, narrowing the pay gap and ensuring that women get equal opportunities.
“While there are initiatives underway to ensure women get paid as much as men, the gap does exist. It is also about the opportunities. A male employee can be 50 years of age and still be considered eligible for certain jobs, whereas a woman stops getting the kind of work or projects she likes. I firmly believe that if a company is looking to become a multinationality platform, the UAE is the best place to execute this. But these mental barriers have to be overcome by individuals.”
However, Priyanka does admit that DEI is a fairly new concept, an idea that is slowly percolating into the corridors of power. Which means there is a need to make the idea attractive. Priyanka says one of her primary goals is to create awareness among the companies first by conducting DEI workshops.
“Women have traditionally been seen as being ideal for certain roles. For example, when it comes to pitching an idea to a client, we are likely to send a female staff, then why is it that we do not consider them for other roles?” And what about the label of being ‘emotional at work’, something that often goes against women in high-flying jobs? Emotions, says Priyanka, are not meant to be resented at the workplace. Because there is an EQ, women turn out to be better managers and teamleaders than men, owing to their “ability to understand different perspectives”. “We are emotional,” says Priyanka. “That’s why we are able to manage so many things.”
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