Wednesday, March 4, 2009

To: All the Superwomen out there

Career or family: a choice no woman should have to make
The National | Feb 25, 2009

By Tala Al Ramahi

For all the mothers fighting
For better days to come
And all my women, all my women sitting here trying
To come home before the sun
– Alicia Keys, Superwoman

Not long ago I received an e-mail update from a good friend with whom I went to Stanford University in the United States. Along with other updates on her life, the thing that stood out the most was a fill-in on her social life at a prestigious Ivy League business school. Her friends were wonderful, she said, but “they are all single and pretty different from me. The girls don’t want to get married, they are hardcore and intense kick-ass women who want to be the next Forbes Top 100 Women,” she lamented.

@body arnhem:Those words are from the same woman who graduated with distinction from the most competitive major at Stanford, chaired one of the biggest philanthropic events at our alma mater and once said to me that she saw herself eventually becoming chief executive of a renowned blue-chip company in Silicon Valley.

Her dilemma was finding likeminded women who believed they did not have to make the choice between family and the Forbes list. For her, “part-time mother, part-time professional” wasn’t the title she wanted for the rest of her life. Neither was it mine, really. Even though her concerns came from miles away, they resonated strongly with me, as I am sure they would with a lot of women of our generation, whether it be here in the UAE or there in the USA.

While I do not intend to diminish the contribution made by working women of previous generations, the marketplace has changed tremendously since then. The working environment is not what it used to be: for starters it has become more competitive, and with globalisation and the integration of our markets, a 7-to-3 job is hard to come by, especially if you decide to venture beyond the government sector.

We must also exert more in the workplace if we hope to prove ourselves and get promoted. This means that working extra hours becomes a necessity rather than a career propeller, and the stress of it all inevitably seeps from the office and into our homes. How, with all that, can we do it all and still maintain some sanity, I wonder? Although I am yet to become one, I am sure being a full-time mother is a full-time job in itself, and so I can only imagine what kind of hardships come with balancing a career and building a family.

And so I begin to wonder sometimes why our culture, one that considers family cohesion an integral building block of a functioning society, does not have the necessary stepping stones that can make Emirati and UAE-based women juggle it all.

While it is encouraging that female emancipation has been prominent in our national agenda for quite some time, we must also consider all the challenges that need to be addressed as a result. One such consideration is the lack of part-time jobs. In January, the Dubai Executive Council took the initiative by providing that option in all the emirate’s government bodies. The private sector in the country must make headway as well if they hope to capitalise on the female labour force.

A social environment conducive to retaining married women and mothers must also be fostered in the workplace. Maternity leave and benefits are still deficient, when compared with the world’s largest and most efficient economies. In-office nurseries are hard to come by as well. So if we want our (to steal my friend’s word) “hardcore” women to earn their place in top management, let us make sure they do not have to think they have to make the choice between family and that Forbes magazine list.

Superman may have saved the world from a lot of destruction, but Superwoman needs to raise (and save) her family, excel at her job, and still manage to make it home in time to tuck the kids into bed with a smile on her face.

That, no doubt, will take more than just muscles and a cape.

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