Women are increasingly gaining positions of power in the UAE business world and Hopscotch.ae is one of a range of new organisations dedicated to mentoring and training them. We spoke to co-founder Helen McGuire, about events designed to match female talent with businesses, and provide easily accessible training opportunities.

Your Learning Lunches are a series of interactive short sessions with guest speakers to help improve staff skills, purpose and outlook. Why did you choose this approach to help women learn new skills?

The simple answer is demand from businesses. We do a lot for the women in our community who don’t have jobs right now, but we also work very hard behind the scenes to increase skills for all women, wherever they may be in their careers.

The Learning Lunches are open to all businesses that want to support the women in their organisations, without meaning they have to take them off site or invest a fortune to do so. We come along for an hour over lunch to focus on a particular area or areas which employers feel would help; whether that be specific skills, morale, communication, staff retention, team work or other issues. The objective is to encourage progression and better retention rates for professional women.

What are the main challenges that Hopscotch members say they face in terms of finding the jobs they want?

Flexibility of employers always comes top – we know that 76 per cent of women wanting to return to work can’t do so because they can’t work traditional hours. The other reason is employers focussing too closely on the ‘gap’ in their CV if they’ve taken time out to raise a family. We work hard on both issues, as we know neither means women have suddenly become useless or lost their professional skills.

Before we launched Hopscotch we knew that over 80 per cent of businesses used ‘flexible’ work as part of their staffing strategy, but would they actually hire on that basis permanently? In other parts of the world, part-time work and support for women is actively demonstrated, but in MENA there was simply nowhere for firms to go to find this talent, let alone a platform for them to shout about what they were doing.

Who else is helping women in the Middle East?

The shining examples are the likes of Nestle, Mastercard, PepsiCo, EY, GE and PWC – all of whom have dedicated internal women’s networks and extremely strong histories of supporting women. From flexible hours and locations, to their internal training and mentoring initiatives, these types of companies are exemplary and we are always eager to hear from more.

We worked with Mastercard earlier this year on several first-of-their-kind programmes that invited women from our community and beyond to join their internal mentorship and ‘return to work’ schemes: the response from women has been overwhelming.

Are social perceptions still a big obstacle hindering women who want to work?

Here’s what we believe will always hold women back – the uneven concept of gender equality. It is simply not enough to ‘allow’ women to go back to work by providing them with flexible working opportunities- the same needs to go for all employees, men included. Without this, it will always be women having to ‘balance’, ‘juggle’ and tread the fine line between childcare and work and the discussion will never move on.

For as long as it’s naturally mummy who gets the call at work to pick up the little one from school due to sickness, we’ll always be fighting to truly change the working world. To close with an example: Sweden has the highest rate in the world of mums going back to work after having one child, at just over 80 per cent. It also has the most equal maternity and paternity leave policies in the world. Family is a shared responsibility and that should be reflected in working policy and practice once women AND men enter that phase in their lives.

Media Centre

If you’re a journalist or member of the press looking for more information or to speak to one of our experts, please contact our press team. 

Callout Image

Championing better work and working lives

About the CIPD

At the CIPD, we champion better work and working lives. We help organisations to thrive by focusing on their people, supporting economies and society for the future. We lead debate as the voice for everyone wanting a better world of work.