We recently met with Helen McGuire, founder of Hopscotch to talk about Singapore's changing work landscape and how companies are coming around to the idea of flexible work.
Chances are, if you’re reading this you may have been – or still are – a trailing spouse. For many expat women, the move abroad signals a change in circumstances that necessitates a career break. Some women welcome the change and embrace home life, others long to be working in some capacity, but just can’t make it work without their home country support network. It’s this seeming lack of flexible work in Singapore that thrusts women into a scenario where they’re working more than they’d prefer, not working at all, or in a job that may not meet their capabilities.
Ever searched for “part-time” roles in Singapore? Ever see the words “flexible”, “job share” or “work from home” in job posts on LinkedIn? Not so much.
Wouldn’t it be awesome if there was a way you could find a role that recognised your skills and experience, but also respected the fact that you are a grown up and can work flexibly and responsibly around real life commitments?
Is there such a thing as the “perfect” work-life balance for us mums? What does that look like in Singapore?
Work-life balance is such a subjective issue. For some women, it’s about being able to plan their work life around their family, for others they’re very happy to be at work full-time and catch up with their kids at the weekend. Some people’s work involves extensive travel, others wouldn’t see that as a possibility, and some simply aren’t interested in working while their kids are small – all these things are examples of a perfect work-life balance on an individual basis.
My take on it is to have a set up that suits you – perhaps you have a helper who can pick up your kids from school, or maybe you need extra time at lunchtime so you can work at home in the afternoons. Write down what your ‘must haves’ and your ‘nice to haves’ might be and be prepared to compromise and find work-arounds.
Do you think that there is a shift towards more flexible work for women in Singapore?
There is a global trend towards more of a ‘gig economy’ where people take work on a short-term basis that suits their needs at that time (estimated to be as many as 9.1 million in the US by one recent study). Interestingly, research demonstrates that millennials value flexibility as more important than income when choosing work. So this issue of ‘flexibility’ isn’t just about women and mothers, but a general trend that helps employers and the economy in general.
In our home region of MENA (Middle East and North Africa), there was no such thing as advertised ‘flexible work’ before Hopscotch was launched in 2016. Through education, building awareness, changes in the law for employees in general as well as specifically for men and women on maternity and paternity rules, that landscape is changing.
As we set up for launch here in Singapore, we’re surveying the working landscape from an employment and employee perspective and so far have found, similar to MENA, that flexible work and support for women does exist but isn’t widely advertised or discussed. We are a platform that not only enables that progress but actively pushes for it in the private and public sector.
What is Hopscotch and how did it come to be?
I worked in communications for many years, both in Europe and the Middle East. I had my daughter in Dubai and it was after this that I truly appreciated the need for more flexible work arrangements, and of course we recognised the gap in the market to facilitate this.
This is how Hopscotch came about. In a nutshell, Hopscotch matches skilled women with companies that want to hire them. That may be a woman who is returning to work after a career break, or a woman who simply wants to work for a company who understands where they’re coming from.
By sourcing flexible and non-flexible roles from our clients, offering training and skills sessions to women and the businesses they work in, and opening up opportunities through our network and initiatives, we move women onwards and upwards in their careers and provide fresh, skilled, hungry talent for our clients.
We have a variety of packages available for clients, including initial free job posts, and our services are totally free for women. We also host and sponsor local events and have a Career Comeback programme, or ‘returnships’ where we work with leading employers to offer skilled women short-term placements, with the potential to lead to permanent work.
Our business in MENA is now well established, so we’ve moved to Singapore to grow our Asian presence.
What kinds of companies seek out the services of Hopscotch?
Hopscotch’s niche is professional women, so we work across all industry verticals and most levels of employment for women with a few years’ experience, through to those wanting a career change up to women in their fifties looking to get back into the world of work.
As such, our client database is just as varied from Magic Circle law firms and consultancies, to advertising, education, tech, finance, agriculture – you name it! We tend to find smaller companies – start ups and SMEs – prefer to work with us to find women who can be employed on a project or part-time basis whereas the bigger corporates like Google, Nestle, HSBC and Mastercard prefer to engage in our events and initiatives to meet and attract women that way.
When will you be launching in Singapore and what services will you offer?
We are already up and running here and have various APAC-based roles on our job board open for application. We’d also love to hear from companies searching for professional women or wanting to advertise their women-friendly events on our board as well as women looking for work. Our site is completely free for women, and simply by signing up and creating your profile you’ll receive our regular updates and have access to all our jobs, inspirational news pieces, events and live video sessions.
We will launch officially in October this year, partnering with regional and multi-national firms to offer genuine opportunities to women looking to return to work after a break for whatever reason. We would love to also understand women’s working journeys here in the region and have put together a short survey to do so.
What advice would you give women re-entering the workforce after a career break, or even working mums looking for more flexible opportunities?
There is so much advice out there on this topic and we speak and write about it regularly at events across the world and on our news pages at Hopscotch. It’s tricky to pinpoint specific advice as everyone’s journey and experience is different, but I’d say that as a first step taking every opportunity to network and meet with those who may be able to help you is key.
Often, when you’ve been away from the workplace for a while confidence can be low and a feeling that you’re the only one who feels that way or that it’s all about your CV and applying to as many positions as possible to get started is super common. Neither of these things is true and the more connections you make with like-minded women at events designed to help you build confidence, meet employers and create opportunities, the faster you’ll get out of that mindset.
As inspirational speaker and author, Regina Brett, is fond of saying, “No matter how you feel, get up, dress up and show up.” And I’d add, never give up!
Hopscotch is currently preparing to officially launch in Singapore and is seeking feedback from Singapore women. If you’d like to help, please complete this quick survey here.
Otherwise, jump online and find out more about Hopscotch.
Top image: Swetlana Gasetski Photography, Dubai
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