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How to Get More Women Back Into The Job Market – Helen McGuire

How can “returners” overcome the huge obstacles they face to get back into the workplace after a career break? What can companies do to retain and re-attract talented women?

Helen McGuire is the Co-Founder and MD,, a platform dedicated to supporting female professionals find the right jobs, whether re-entering the workforce or changing careers.

Helen has actually had three very different careers… She spent 12 years in London’s music industry, where she successfully piloted and presented her own music radio show in 11 countries globally and DJ’d internationally as a hobby. In 2012, Helen moved to Dubai to become Head of Digital Content for one of the Middle East’s biggest advertising companies, successfully growing a team to encompass key client work across the Impact Group regionally and globally.

On taking a maternity break to have her first child in 2015, Helen began to understand the pressures felt by women who wished to work but were unable to find flexible options to suit their family commitments. And so the idea of Hopscotch was born… The company now employs a strong team across its three tenets of Work, Learn and Connect; has grown a community of over 50,000 women in the Middle East and works with multinationals to SMEs in order to spearhead initiatives, skills sessions, events and training for women and companies. In 2018, the family will move to Singapore to grow their brands throughout Asia.

We spent some time at the beginning talking about Helen’s own career, because the diversity of it so fascinating! She worked for free for years just to break into the (highly competitive) music industry, and then got a culture shock in the corporate advertising world. About 14 minutes into the show we started talking about Hopscotch and how a chance photography course opened her eyes to the plight that many talented women face after they have children: the desire to work and the need to do so flexibly. Around 25 minutes into the podcast we talk about the barriers to re-entry and how they can be overcome. You will hear much about the power of networking – and get tips on how to do it effectively.

If you would like to sign up for Hopscotch or reach out to Helen, please visit

You can find out more about Helen and Hopscotch on Instagram @hopscotch_me and

Read the Transcript

Note: While When Women Win is produced as an audio recording, we are delighted to produce transcripts for those who are unable to hear. Kindly note that these are generated using a combination of speech recognition software and human transcribers, and may contain errors. Media is encouraged to check the corresponding audio before quoting in print.

Rana Nawas: (00:00)

Ladies and gentlemen, my guest on today’s show is a matchmaker. She helps women find flexible work at family friendly companies. Helen McGuire is the cofounder and MD of Hopscotch, a platform dedicated to supporting female professionals whether reentering the workforce or changing careers. On taking a maternity break to have her first child, Helen began to understand the pressures felt by women who wish to work but were unable to find flexible options to suit their family commitment, and so the idea of Hopscotch was born. The conversation started in the music industry and moved into media and then recruitment. We discussed returners, how companies can re-attract talent that dropped out of the workforce and how to gear them up to hit the ground running. We talked about the support women need at all levels and explored the role men play at home and in the workplace. We also discuss what companies could do to better serve both their male and female employees. So let’s get into it. Helen, I am thrilled to have you on When Women Win. Thank you for joining us.


Helen McGuire:  (01:08)

Thank you for having me.


Rana Nawas: (01:08)

You had a dream job. The BBC or BBC music radio show host in London. Massive stable employer, sexy industry, dynamic role. Can you tell us a bit more about that?


Helen McGuire:  (01:21)

Yeah. So when I came out of uni I went traveling for about a year and I was really into music. I have no musical technical capability whatsoever. I just have to flag that and I’m not some kind of concerto pianist or whatever, but I was really into music and I traveled all around the country, particularly electronic music and I got my degree from Leeds Uni in geography and French, so nothing to do with music whatsoever. I went traveling and it kind of opened my eyes to different possibilities and just the fact that really your life is about choices and about the things that you wanted to do and things that you are passionate about and that was what was really important to me. And I came back, moved down to London and realized very quickly that getting into the music industry was not quite as easy as I thought it would be. I did lots of work for free. I worked at the BBC for free over a period of about three years. I worked for magazines, so for magazines like mixmag writing and freelancing and at the same time had a job at discovery channel, so it was literally like weekends, night times, holidays. Everything was taken up by my work in radio and I managed to get a role on John Peel’s show when John Peel, just before John Peel died actually, and that kind of led me in a pretty good direction in terms of the learning curve. I did a couple of courses, radio courses at night school and when a job came up when I was 24, I just went for it. There were very, very few openings in that industry and I was absolutely bowled over and shocked to get a call two weeks later to say I got the job. It was like all my Christmases had come at once. I think I nearly fainted, actually. I mean I remember actually having to sit down on the floor and I was physically shaking.


Rana Nawas: (03:04)

Oh, wow.


Helen McGuire:  (03:04)

Yeah, I was so overwhelmed and so excited by it and I started the job a few weeks later and I was working on one of my all time favorite radio shows and at the time it was called the Breezeblock. It was a night time show hosted by Mary Anne Hobbs. I was the broadcaster system, which is like pretty much the lowest of the low unless you’re an intern in the radio industry and I just worked my way up from there and you know, learned all the tricks of the trade skills, technical stuff, editing, nights in the studios, weekends at festivals, interviewing the great and good from the electronic world of music and then beyond, you know, into rap music, into metal, into rock, into all genres of music, really, throughout my radio career. And I did that for six, seven years kind of solidly and ended up with a role in Birmingham at a BBC radio station that was based in Birmingham at the time and I just think I kind of, it ran its course for me, you know, I was, I was DJing, I was doing everything. I was writing, I was doing the radio stuff. I also had my own radio show at that time. Separately, it was part of a record label and the music collective and I think I just realized, you know, I hit sort of 30, 31 and kind of realized that actually it wasn’t really sustainable as a lifestyle.


Rana Nawas: (04:25)

Tell me how crazy it was because what you see in the movies, I have zero inkling of the music industry except what I see the movies, right? So when you see it, it’s all, you know, sex, drugs, rock and roll, late nights, crazy festivals. I mean, is it really like that and what are the people like that work in it?


Helen McGuire:  (04:44)

So it goes from a level of great, great professionalism at the very sort of high end of a DJ career, if you like, you know, people who are running their record labels, their DJ careers, their events with absolute clinical business, now. So, you know, really kind of understanding and those are the really successful ones, right down to people who I unfortunately had the chance to work for after my BBC music career who were just completely unprofessional and just have no clue.


Rana Nawas: (05:13)

So what are examples of the super professional guys like who, anyone we’d know?


Helen McGuire:  (05:17)

Yeah, I mean I guess some of the big rap stars, I mean, you know, you can take Jay Z as a very good example as kind of a very commonly known music persona.


Rana Nawas: (05:26)

He’s running it, you know, he’s got his fingers in lots of pies, he’s worth an awful lot of money. From my perspective, somebody like Richie Hawtin who has any sort of electronic music people out there will know who he is, is super professional and takes it all very seriously and, you know, is on it when he’s doing the job, but takes his breaks, you know, spends time with his family, goes on wellness retreats to Thailand, you know, he makes it into a family kind of business and all the people who are on his label are part of his family and he takes care of everybody. In the same way that any kind of good corporate business would, in a way. So there is a great level of professionalism there, but yeah, I mean it is a kind of crazy lifestyle because it’s 24/7, particularly when you work, you know, electronic music.


Helen McGuire:  (06:13)

You know, I remember a trip we did, we used to do what you call OBs, outside broadcasts in the radio world and we did them at festivals, we did them on location in Barcelona and Berlin and Miami, like all over the world and that’s kind of nonstop, you know, you really are sort of working 24 hours to get the job done because there’s so much to cover. You’re out recording stuff, you’re out interviewing people, you’re in the studio producing live shows, whatever it might be. So it does become kind of unpredictable in lots of ways and yes, you could, you know, I could have moved into the safer territory of daytime radio, but it just didn’t inspire me whatsoever. I just wasn’t interested and I knew that music was my passion and that wasn’t going anywhere. If I left the music industry, music would still be my passion, it could still be my hobby, and that’s how I made it, you know, I then kind of progressed into just DJing and doing most of my label and doing the podcast and stuff like that.


Rana Nawas: (07:11)

But then you left the music industry to join an advertising company. So how did that happen. Music’s your passion, why would, why leave?


Helen McGuire:  (07:22)

Because, you know, as I said it just, it ran its course. It just kind of, it became unsustainable for me. I felt that I’d done what I needed to do, that I’d done it to death, you know, I’d really rinsed it in that time. I’d done everything that I wanted to. I had worked on the shows, the exact shows that I wanted to work on and I just didn’t want to move up into senior senior management because then it just takes you away from the whole reason that you do that job in the first place. It takes you away from the music and you become a people manager and that just isn’t where I wanted to be. So I decided that instead of doing that, I would use the skills that I’ve learned, which are many, you know, in that industry, it is so much about people, it’s so much about technical stuff, putting things together, content planning and move those into an industry that I thought would be able to use them, which was broadcast marketing advertising because at that time things like content, digital content, video, even audio podcasts, that sort of stuff was becoming more of a commoditized thing for brands, you know, and now it’s obvious, right? I mean, brands produce video. 10 years ago that was not obvious. That became something that gradually became obvious to brands that video, it was very engaging and that to have their own content, in inverted commerce, was a way in which they could engage particularly younger people, you know, through youtube and all that kind of stuff. So I moved my expertise, if you like, from making content for audiences into making content for brands. And that was everything from imagery, photography, audio, video, the whole lot and that was a tough journey as well. That was, you know, moving from the BBC world, which I was so used to working with music people and everything was, you know, you come in at 10:00 AM, you leave maybe 10:00 AM the next morning, but you know, you still know kind of like you’re there 8:00 and you’ve still got to be there at 7:00 and you’re at your desk, but it just wasn’t like that and I moved into the corporate world where, you know, I was expected at my desk 8:15 and, you know, there were drinks after work and it was all very civilized and it was just, it was just a bit of it. Yeah, it was completely different. Completely different.


Rana Nawas: (09:30)

And you didn’t stay there very long?


Helen McGuire:  (09:33)

No, no, no, not that long. I mean, I did, so I did a stint in London for about a year and half at a broadcast marketing PR agency and then I actually moved back into music and set up a music website, really, that had been going in Australasia for a little while and they wanted to launch it in the UK, in Europe. So I did that for a bit and sort of basically was the editor of the site, so did all content and the interviews and put everything together and had a little team and what have you and then had the opportunity to move to Dubai and when I did that, that’s when the big, the bigger job I guess in advertising came up and that was working for BBDO an advertising company, global advertising company, but a big company based here in Dubai. And to be honest with you, I at the time I kind of because I was moving with my husband and he had his own, he had his own business here and to me it was kind of like, I’m going to take a step back here, you know, advertising isn’t really my industry. I haven’t conquered it in London so I don’t know how it’s going to work in Dubai. But it was a really interesting role. It was making content for Pepsi and I thought, yeah, this could be cool, you know, it can be something I can own and kind of grow. I didn’t have major ambitions for it in the same way as I did for my career previously. I think I just thought, let’s see what happens when we get there and I was still DJing when I moved. I DJed for 360, which is now closed actually.


Rana Nawas: (10:58)

Oh, I didn’t know it closed.


Helen McGuire:  (11:00)

Yeah, it just closed. I know, it’s quite sad. So I DJed there. I think I was the first female resident DJ so I was very proud of that and I did that for a year. But the music industry here is just not like, it’s obviously nowhere near the same as it is at home. So yeah, the advertising stuff just kind of took hold and gradually started doing work for GE, work for Visa, work for lots of multinationals and some of the smaller brands here producing content and loved it, you know, I loved it, but it was very different, very different lifestyle.


Rana Nawas: (11:33)

And then you left to set up Hopscotch.


Helen McGuire:  (11:35)



Rana Nawas: (11:35)

So what was the thought process there?


Helen McGuire:  (11:37)

So I loved, I loved the job in advertising and I had quite a lot of autonomy and I was doing pretty well in that field I guess. But when I had my first child, I had the opportunity to take eight months off. So, which was, you know, obviously rare here, I mean unpaid obviously but still something, and it was during that time, I really love photography so I had a bit of spare time and I thought, right, while I’m off, I’ll take this opportunity and I will go to a couple of photography classes and finally learn how to use my camera properly, which I’d had for like six years and still couldn’t work, and as I walked into the room it was a room that I expected it to be full of students and was actually instead a room full of people who looked basically like you and I, you know, like


Rana Nawas: (12:28)

new mums


Helen McGuire:  (12:29)

Mums or even not new moms necessarily, like even slightly older moms whose kids were now at school or maybe even left home or whatever. And the tutor at the front, who is lovely, kind of went around and says everybody introduce yourselves and without fail, apart from me obviously cause I was going back to my role in advertising. They said, oh, you know, I’m just a mom and I’m here because, you know, I don’t know how to use this camera and we haven’t got anything else to do to be honest. And he said, okay, but what, what did you do before you were just a mom, you know? And they said, oh, I used to work in PR or used to have my own business or back in Australia I used to do X, Y, and Z, and they were all career women. They were women who were professional, smart, obviously engaged because they’ve taken this opportunity to go and do this course in the first place, you know, they wanted to get out there and meet people and at the end of the course a couple of them came to me and said, I used to work in your industry. Could you help me get a job? And obviously, at the time I couldn’t. There wasn’t really any route for me to do that. At the same time, my husband has a recruitment agency, you know, that’s why we moved to Dubai in the first place and we were having a chat a couple of weeks later and I just said this is so frustrating and I knew just from my friends as well and from colleagues that there was no route back to work for women who had had kids, you know, there was no such thing as flexible work in Dubai. There was no such thing as temp or whatever it might be, which there is at home. And yeah, I knew there was this big talent pool of women who were so capable and so willing and just wanted to get back into the working world but it just wasn’t set up for them. And at the same time, from a corporate perspective, I knew I had projects that I needed photographers for or writers for or even just project managers or whatever and there was no where them, you know, there was no where to kind of, I usually just put my hand up in the office and say does anybody know someone who could do a couple of days on this? And it would just be word of mouth and so my husband and I were talking about this, and really that, you know, that’s when the idea of hopscotch came up and we actually bought the, so this was June, July 2015 and we actually bought the url, like at the end of the conversation. It was called a different thing, but we bought the url. Right idea, wrong url. Yeah, it just went from there, you know, I started researching, we did a lot of market research with women and with companies over the following six months and then I went back to work, found out I was pregnant with my second child and just thought if I don’t do it now, I’m never going to do it, you know, because once the baby’s born, you can forget it. You’ve got at least another six months before you can do anything because your brain’s just a fog. So I just thought let’s just do this and let’s see what happens or anything.


Rana Nawas: (15:23)

And what challenges did you face along the way? I mean, building a business while you were pregnant?


Helen McGuire:  (15:28)



Rana Nawas: (15:29)

And with your second child and building a business and something that doesn’t actually exist yet.


Helen McGuire:  (15:35)



Rana Nawas: (15:35)

Right, in Dubai. So was that a good thing or a bad thing that you were first to market?


Helen McGuire:  (15:39)

I think it’s a bit of both. The challenges in some ways almost cancelled out the opportunities. Do you know what I mean? I think there’s huge opportunity there, but you have to approach it in the right way and you have to do your homework. I mean, just even from a legal perspective, the thing that used to keep me awake at night is, is this actually legal? Can women work part-time on their husbands visas? And so obviously we had the right meetings with the right people to confirm that that was the case, you know, it was stuff like that. It was kind of breaking new ground because there was nowhere for people to talk about flexible work. It just didn’t really exist as a thing. So that, you know, that was a huge challenge. I think just in terms of funding as well, you know, we knew that the only way to get to these women was to have a big old press release and, you know, you had to make a big noise about it at launch because if you didn’t, how are you going to get to them? How are they going to know to register with you and for you to have a database that you can pull out of to present to clients because they’re not all on LinkedIn and they’re not all on GulfTalent and they’re not, you can’t be searching on facebook. I mean, you can’t, there’s nothing even on LinkedIn now that says, I’m looking for flexible work or I took a career break or, you know, I’m a mom that needs part time hours or whatever. So how do you find them? So we knew that the key was really building our own database and so it was doing what was necessary to get that word out there and that was obviously building a website. It was creating a whole press launch. But even, you know, even then, I mean, it was April the 3rd I think or something, and I went into the office seven months pregnant. I had my press release that I’d worked on. I had all my surveys, statistics, I had my sort of basic website that we built and I sat one morning, I think it was like a Tuesday morning and just sent it out to a load of press contacts and I thought, I have no idea what’s going to happen after this. I don’t know if anyone’s going to even notice and we were just absolutely shocked by the response from the press and from women. I mean, I could see women signing up literally every 30 seconds.


Rana Nawas: (17:45)



Helen McGuire:  (17:45)

It was amazing, actually.


Rana Nawas: (17:46)

Because that really, I mean, when I think about it, what you did is really hard. You’re trying to reach women who’ve left the workforce who are sitting at home and haven’t been engaged for years and so don’t have that network to hear about these things.


Helen McGuire:  (17:59)



Rana Nawas: (17:59)

That’s hard.


Helen McGuire:  (18:00)

It’s really hard.


Rana Nawas: (18:00)

I mean, you’re trying to get into somebody’s home, basically.


Helen McGuire:  (18:05)

Yeah. I mean, you know, you’re talking about, we used to go around to nurseries and drop flyers, we used to just kind of places where we knew that type of person would hang out, you know, where I was hanging out a year previously.


Rana Nawas: (18:18)

Some Guerrilla marketing.


Helen McGuire:  (18:19)

Yeah, just kind, just kind of get the word out there.


Rana Nawas: (18:23)

Posters in salons.


Helen McGuire:  (18:24)

Exactly, exactly. I mean, that’s how I got the survey out in the first place was mommy bloggers partly but also through nurseries and salons and things like that. Like would you mind sharing this with your database? And that also helped, I think to get the word out that something was coming, that something was going to change.


Rana Nawas: (18:41)

So tell us a bit about hopscotch. What do you do in a nutshell?


Helen McGuire:  (18:45)

In a nutshell, Hopscotch is a women’s empowerment platform, so we now have a team that works across training, so we go into businesses and we help them become more women friendly in inverted commas and that’s a very, I don’t really like that term but you know, we’ll go into that. We obviously source roles for women and we started off with just flexible roles because we knew that’s where the need really was at the start.


Rana Nawas: (19:12)

And what do you mean by flexible roles? You mean working from home or do you mean part-time hours?


Helen McGuire:  (19:15)

I mean any kind of flexibility. So if you think about it from my perspective, I need to leave the office at 1:30 to go and pick my kids up from nursery and I can be back in the office by 2:30, quarter to three no issues, but I need to know that I can get out and do that and drop them home. So it’s just having that allowance written into a kind of HR policy or a job description or a contract that says you can do slightly different hours to somebody else to make sure you still get the job done, but you have that flexibility to also be able to take care of your family right up to work from home, you know, five days a week or part-time or whatever it might be. But now, to be honest, I mean we started off with yes, 100% flexible work. The more women that we have on board now. It’s interesting because women, you know, you tend to think of women as being stuck in one situation, you know, with kids and that’s constantly the way it is and it doesn’t change. Actually, it changes all the time. You know, your situation as a woman changes as your kids grow older, inevitably. Different hours, different things, after school clubs, whatever it might be. So as such, your needs as an employee also change. So for some women it’s not an issue doing permanent full-time roles. Not every woman has to take care of kids or take care of their family.


Rana Nawas: (20:39)

Yeah and once the kids are over the age of five.


Helen McGuire:  (20:41)

So, doesn’t matter. Exactly. So we’ve kind of expanded beyond that and now it’s flexible and non-flexible, but we understand 100%, you know, just even from a personal perspective that flexibility is absolutely key to getting women back into the workforce. Particularly once they’ve, if they’ve just had kids or have got young kids, you know.


Rana Nawas: (20:59)

What about your candidates are all female, correct?


Helen McGuire:  (21:03)



Rana Nawas: (21:03)

So Hopscotch’s candidates are all female.


Helen McGuire:  (21:05)



Rana Nawas: (21:06)

We’re talking about flexibility of work to support them. When you talk to companies, do you talk about flexibility of work for men as well?


Helen McGuire:  (21:16)

Yeah, definitely and to be honest you can look at blueprints from elsewhere in the world. So if you look at someone like the Netherlands for example, if you look at someone like Sweden, things like maternity and paternity leave are 100% key because really when you think of gender balance with gender equality, you can’t offer flexible hours to women so that they can carry on doing all this stuff at home and looking after the kids. So how is that balance? How is that equal in any way? That doesn’t make any sense. All it means is that they have now an extra role of going to work plus they’re still doing all the stuff that they were doing before basically. So unless you have the same kind of rules, if you like, for men, it doesn’t really make any sense and the companies that succeed best at this are those that offer the same types of flexibility and the same options and the same work from home options to men as to women. I mean, that just makes sense.


Rana Nawas: (22:16)

Total sense. I mean, I always say you can’t have equality in the workplace if you don’t have equality at home.


Helen McGuire:  (22:21)



Rana Nawas: (22:21)

And it’s not fair to expect the woman to do two jobs, you know, corporate and home, and the man gets away with doing one.


Helen McGuire:  (22:29)

Exactly, it just doesn’t make any sense and yes it helps women to get back to work and I get that and it’s a step along the road, but it doesn’t solve a problem.


Rana Nawas: (22:37)

No. So when you do go into a company, we’ve just been talking about maternity paternity leave, when you talk to them, what are the policy changes you recommend that have the most impact? Where’s the low hanging fruit?


Helen McGuire:  (22:48)

Okay. So flexible work is the obvious low hanging fruit. I mean, it really is. It’s kind of like I said, you don’t need to have people working from home or people working part time. It’s literally just having flexibility in, you know, imagine what that word means. Apply that to hours, to locations, to your, to your workforce. And that really needs to be written in the company’s HR policy. It needs to be kind of within the company’s DNA because otherwise you get issues with, you know, oh such and such is doing it, why can’t I do it? Or women perhaps getting up at 4:00 and leaving and there being some chat about that around the office, which is completely unfair. The other stuff is training. This doesn’t just start, you know, this kind of gender balance doesn’t just start when a woman has kids, it starts right out of school. It starts right out of university. It’s something to do with the way that women are programed and brought up, I think. I mean, that’s just not. They’re generally, they’re much worse at asking for pay rises, they’re much worse at putting themselves forward if they don’t have every single tick in the box, they tend not to do that. So the opportunities increasingly as you move up, go more and more and more to men and then by the point at which they’re thinking, right, I’m going to leave and have kids. For many women, it’s kind of a get out clause. It’s like, this is just become too hard, I’m just gonna kind of leave and take a step back here and then obviously it’s even harder to get back in. So it’s that kind of mentality that you need to work on. I’m not saying it applies to all women. It definitely doesn’t, but to many women you need to work on that from the off and that really is where training and coaching and mentoring comes in and that involves men and women, you know. It needs to be understood on both sides.


Rana Nawas: (24:37)

So you just mentioned women who want to get back into work. You said it’s hard.


Helen McGuire:  (24:41)



Rana Nawas: (24:42)

What advice do you have for these ladies and what is it that’s hard? Is it, for example, if you’ve been out for years, it’s harder than one. Is it actually timing or does it depend on your industry? What makes it hard to come back?


Helen McGuire:  (24:57)

I think there are several factors. One of the clear factors that we’ve picked up from our research and from our work that we’ve done with women is confidence. You know, confidence really kind of declines when you take a step out of the workforce and your brain sort of switches into doing something else and into another mode, I guess if you like. You feel, am I good enough? Am I, do I have the right skills anymore? Has my industry moved on? Can I cope if I go back to work because I’ve now got kids and I also need, you know, I have that responsibility and I need to look after them. Confidence is a big one and network is another big one. If you’ve been out for more than a year or two, then probably your network has moved on. Right? So they’re not necessarily the same people in your office that were there previously. Maybe you’ve moved countries, maybe your situation’s completely changed. Industry is another big one. Not all industries are baby family friendly. I mean, you know, if I had a friend who was an air hostess, I mean that’s basically impossible if you’ve got a family, you know, and there’s no work from home options there. You know, there’s no, there’s no kind of way around it. So, I mean, I know the Elevate forum was obviously about future proofing this year and I talked about that quite a lot. Think, for example, when I was working in radio, when I got to 30 I realized it was not a family friendly industry and that’s partly, to be honest, why I changed. I couldn’t see a future there and I think you have to think about that at a relatively early stage. Is this a supportive company? Is this industry supportive of family? Is it likely that I’m going to be able to move around easily and I’m not going to be stuck in one city or one place or one situation really with this industry. So there’s lots of different factors that come into play and I think then you have a bunch of choices that you need to make.


Rana Nawas: (26:49)

And what advice do you have for returners for women who’ve been out for say three years? What do they do to come back?


Helen McGuire:  (26:56)

Well obviously, you can sign up with hopscotch. No, I mean, the advice that we generally give is networking is a huge thing. So really just kind of get yourself back out there, find out about the networks that are going to help you. There are lots of networking opportunities sometimes. Yeah. I mean, sometimes it can be mommy groups, sometimes it’s obviously things like Elevate, it’s the forums like Women in Leadership Economic Forum, which is here only once a year but does things, other things throughout the year. So get involved in those kind of networks because not only are they a great source of inspiration, they’re also a huge source of support. You know, certainly for me when I first started, I had no idea about any of those networks, you know, I’ve never worked in a women focused environment before to be honest but it’s been a massive source of support, you know. It’s how I met you, now we’re friends. So, you know, kind of get yourself out there and do that.


Rana Nawas: (27:59)

I just wanna build on that, you know, for the listeners, to make the point that there are a lot of networks out there, professional women networks, to be clear what we mean by networks. I mean professional women’s networks. So there is Elevate Dubai, obviously which I run. There’s Dubai Business Women’s Council, there’s, I mean, loads of different ones.


Helen McGuire:  (28:18)

Industry specific ones.


Rana Nawas: (28:19)

I know there’s one for shipping and there’s one for, you know, tech. So just a note to the listeners, find a network or a forum that works for you because there are also all very different and I know that networking can be intimidating and it really shouldn’t be and I’ve created a video on this, I’ve put it on my LinkedIn, but networking is really just about building relationships. So just a message to the listener, especially if you’ve been out of the workforce for a few years. All it is is building relationships, which, you know, for example, if you’ve been a full time mom for a couple of years, you’ve already been doing that. When you go to the mum groups or to the schools or you know, moms can do this naturally.


Helen McGuire:  (29:00)

I think everybody is struggling with the same thing. I mean nobody, there are very few people who go into a room of people and feel immediately comfortable, feel super happy.


Rana Nawas: (29:09)

I don’t.


Helen McGuire:  (29:09)

I don’t either.


Rana Nawas: (29:11)

I don’t feel comfortable when I walk into a room full of strangers, of course.


Helen McGuire:  (29:15)

You know, where do you start kind of thing. But you just start, you know, you just kind of do it and you speak to the first person and then you realize everyone’s in the same boat.


Rana Nawas: (29:23)



Helen McGuire:  (29:23)

That everyone’s super friendly, that everyone’s got a story and sometimes it’s about listening to that story and you know, I mean I went to an event recently in Singapore as an example and it was actually a fashion event that I’d been invited to that also was all dressed up as a networking event, I guess. I had no intention going in there and networking at all. I thought this is great. I’ll just have a look at the clothes and you know, I’ll get my free cocktail and whatever and ended up just speaking to two or three for my network, some of the most influential people in Singapore just was introduced to me by somebody that I vaguely knew to this person who knew this person and it just kind of works like that. So you just put yourself in that space and see what happens. If you walk out and you’ve met nobody, you’ve lost nothing.


Rana Nawas: (30:06)

And I think just one practical tip for ladies who want to go to their first networking event, take a friend with you.


Helen McGuire:  (30:13)



Rana Nawas: (30:14)

Always take, take a wing woman. You know, the idea is not to spend the whole evening talking to them obviously. But, you know, when you go along with your friend you feel more comfortable starting conversations with strangers.


Helen McGuire:  (30:26)

Yeah and I also think, you know, it’s quite a nice challenge then you could say to whoever it is that you’ve brought along. Right? We’ve got an hour, let’s separate and come back and let’s see how many people we’ve each talked to. You can make it into a little competition.


Rana Nawas: (30:39)

Exactly or I’m going to go and meet three people. You meet three people. Let’s see who’s most interesting.


Helen McGuire:  (30:43)

Yeah, exactly. Let’s see who could meet the most interesting person in the room. No, I mean I think it’s not scary at all. I think everyone’s in the same situation and it is absolutely key and vital. I think just to getting your head back in the game almost. The other thing I would say is try and find either a mentor or a coach potentially. Somebody who understands that it’s not just about your CV but it’s about the journey to get there and that can be a, you know, a confidence journey. It can be a person effectiveness journey. It could be a skills journey sometimes in terms of picking up, you know, the right skills. I mean, we do career clinics every month which are designed to help women, some of the soft skills, some of the harder skills and those trainings and all of those sorts of things we’ve now brought online because, you know, you don’t always have time to go to a networking event or to meet people in person, but there’s still very, very key things to learn and just help you just to get back to that level of working.


Rana Nawas: (31:43)

Yeah. So if I wanted to summarize the advice for women who have left the workforce and want to come back in, I think it starts with networking, skills, so training if you need it. Some kind of skills development because obviously if you’ve been out a couple of years, even your heart skills will be out of date. Mentor, get a mentor if you can and where would they find a mentor though if they’ve been out for a couple of years?


Helen McGuire:  (32:07)

I mean, again, there are organizations here, so there’s Reach Mentoring, which is very good and otherwise I think sometimes mentoring can come from your own circle, as well.


Rana Nawas: (32:18)

Friends, like peer mentors, maybe or no?


Helen McGuire:  (32:20)

I guess so, yeah. Kind of ex-colleagues perhaps if you have access to that kind of thing, to talk to them and just to do some goal setting. It’s always really useful just to feel I think that you’re getting a foot on the ladder and kind of getting yourself out there and then obviously just keep a look out for, for jobs, you know, for jobs that might be relevant.


Rana Nawas: (32:40)

So sign up with a platform like Hopscotch. But I like also the fifth point I think was if you can get a coach, if you can afford a coach, get one.


Helen McGuire:  (32:49)

Absolutely, yeah.


Rana Nawas: (32:49)

Because, I mean, there are people who are really experienced.


Helen McGuire:  (32:52)

There are a lot of career and life coaches here in Dubai. I mean, we work with a number of them and, you know, there are different levels of coach and different levels of experience obviously but I know, you know, several of the coaches that we work with, we’ve seen the case studies, we’ve seen the results, you know. Yeah and I think there are also, I mean, you know, we started something called returnships last year through hopscotch, which has been majorly successful, you know. Getting onto one of those programs where you get back into work but you also have a bit of handholding and a bit of training along the way. I mean, the three that we did for mastercard, all three, are now working for mastercard.


Rana Nawas: (33:33)

Oh, that’s fantastic.


Helen McGuire:  (33:34)

Well, actually, GE does a similar program called Return to Company RTC whereby they invited women who had been out of the workforce for three to five years to apply, took 10 of them onboard and eight of them got jobs at the end of the 10 week program.


Rana Nawas: (33:49)

Yeah. Because they know what they’re looking for and actually tapping into this talent pool is a huge bonus for them as well.


Rana Nawas: (33:55)

Sure. I mean, these are women who were already trained. You know, they have skills, they have context in that industry.


Helen McGuire:  (34:02)

Yeah and not only that, but it’s kind of really an edge on their competitors, you know, because let’s face it, the talent pool really in the MENA region depending on the industry can be quite small, you know, for senior talent, particularly. If you’ve got a woman who’s been working in that industry with 10, 12, maybe even 15 years before they leave and then suddenly they’re gone, you know, you’ve lost that talent from the region. And I think for a company you’re just constantly raking through the same talent pool. If you can access a slightly different one, a more unique one, and one that isn’t necessarily networked and bring that back, then you’ve got an advantage really, from a corporate perspective.


Rana Nawas: (34:42)

Surely, it saves the company money. I mean, if you’re bringing someone back in, it must be cheaper than going through the whole hiring process.


Helen McGuire:  (34:52)

The whole thing. Just makes sense from a bottom line perspective, returning to work, flexibility, good maternity policy, good paternity policy, it makes sense on every single level from a revenue perspective because actually, you’re reducing absenteeism, you are expanding your talent pool, you’re increasing your trust with your staff members, you’re increasing the work life balance and the levels of satisfaction amongst your employees, it just ticks so many boxes and that eventually has payoff from a financial perspective as well.


Rana Nawas: (35:32)

Helen, you’ve lived and worked in the UK, Middle East, Australia, and you’re soon going to move to East Asia. When you land in a new country or continent, what are the first steps you take to building your network there? I mean, I know you just talked about this fashion event in Singapore. How did that come about, for example, was it conscious and what do you do consciously?


Helen McGuire:  (35:51)

Okay. So I think I’ve gotten better at this as I’ve got older, you know, as I’ve kind of done it a couple of times, I guess, and for me now it’s a different attitude that I had probably even when I moved to Dubai. So when I moved to Dubai, you know, I had my job set up and I didn’t really worry about networking where an industry job perspective was concerned. I worried more about I have no friends here, you know, I don’t know anybody really. That was super important to me and certainty when I first moved the first sort of three or six months were quite tough from that perspective because you don’t have your usual network of people who are supporting you. Who were just kind of telling you, no, it’s fine. Keep going. You know, you’re doing the right thing or you know, let’s go here, let’s go there or let’s explore and you have to sort of build that personally. When I move to Asia, which is happening this year, it will be quite different I think because now I have a family, right? I might, a lot of my time is taken up with that anyway. I don’t have as much time to be going out with friends or whatever. So it doesn’t work quite the same way. So I think my focus was more on my professional network and the way in which I would go about building that would be from the lessons that I’ve learned from Hopscotch. I think, which is basically to hone in on the people who you feel can be helpful to you, who you feel that you’ve got something to offer them and they potentially could have something to offer you.


Rana Nawas: (37:22)

So the two way street is very important.


Helen McGuire:  (37:24)

It’s very important. Yeah, I think it’s not about kind of, you know, even just going to people and saying, I have, you know, even from a business perspective, oh, I have this amazing thing that I have to offer you. It’s like, how can we work together on this? So for example, I mean the event in Singapore, how did that happen? It was through a friend of a friend who I agreed to meet for coffee who works quite an influential organization there who then said I’m doing putting this event on tomorrow night with Net-A-Porter and I was like, brilliant, do I get some free vouchers like there? And so I just kind of turned up. It was my last night in Singapore, honestly, not knowing what to expect, happen to bump into her. She was there obviously, but I didn’t even know her very well. So and she knew kind of what I did by that point and she spotted someone and she said, oh, I think you should meet my friend such and such and it just kind of went from that and, you know, I’m now in touch with a big women’s network in Singapore that I never would have been before. So you know, the power of networking there I think is very clear, but you have to be clear about what it is that you’re offering about who you are and otherwise you will waste a lot of time meeting the wrong people and it will become a bit disheartening. So I think that’s my approach and I guess I’m lucky because I’ve got this platform that we’ve built over two and a bit years and I’m very clear about what I’m doing now and what I can do to help people and companies.


Rana Nawas: (38:53)

Yeah, because there is no such Hopscotch in Singapore, is there?


Helen McGuire:  (38:56)

No, no, not at the moment, but they will be soon.


Rana Nawas: (39:01)

Okay, well before you go Helen I’m going to ask you a couple of personal questions.


Helen McGuire:  (39:05)

Oh God, here we go.


Rana Nawas: (39:06)

If you could go back in time, what is one thing you would do differently?


Helen McGuire:  (39:11)

I think I’d just have a lot more trust in my own path and not worried so much that other people weren’t doing what I was doing. I think, you know, as you say I have moved a lot. I’ve made some quite difficult career choices. I’ve made some difficult move choices in lots of respect that people have raised eyebrows about and haven’t really understood at the time, but I’ve known in my heart of hearts it was 100% the right thing for me to do and I feel looking back that’s very clear. At the time it was difficult and I think I would just not worry about that. Just not overthink that, to be honest. Just go with my gut feeling more easily.


Rana Nawas: (39:58)

So if you could have tea with one person from history, who would it be and why?


Helen McGuire:  (40:03)

Right, I’m going to say King Henry the eighth.


Rana Nawas: (40:06)



Helen McGuire:  (40:08)

He was. I mean, he was an interesting character and he has a very bad reputation.


Rana Nawas: (40:13)

Well he was a very bad man, Helen.


Helen McGuire:  (40:14)

Well you don’t know that. You know, I’m thinking maybe he was just, he was just a game changer. You know, he changed religion at a time when religion could not be touched.


Rana Nawas: (40:25)

Yes, that’s true.


Helen McGuire:  (40:26)

And I think I’m not standing up for him whatsoever, but he built my school as well. He built the school that I went to. So my school, you know, has been standing for 6/700 years. So to an extent, I have a debt of gratitude to King Henry the eighth. So I’m going to say King Henry the eighth just to find out whether he was actually all bad.


Rana Nawas: (40:50)

Nice. Helen, where can listeners find you?


Helen McGuire:  (40:54)

So I guess easiest place, go to our website, or which is the original url. Find me on LinkedIn, although I’m really bad at using LinkedIn sometimes. So yeah, I guess through the website is the best. Go and have a look there and you’ll find out lots and lots of other things apart from me.


Rana Nawas: (41:12)

Thank you so much. Helen, I really enjoyed this. Thanks for coming in.


Helen McGuire:  (41:15)

Thank you. I did too. Thank you so much.


Rana Nawas: (41:18)

I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. You can check out show notes and more episodes at or search When Women Win on Itunes, Spotify, or wherever you get your podcasts. I’d also love to hear your feedback and ideas for who I should bring on the show. You can find me on instagram @rananawas. Thanks and have a great day.



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