Shortly after opening her beauty salon, Tara Roux realised she had something in common with many of her employees.
The vast majority of them are – like she was when her son was young – single mothers.
So she decided to use her business to help the mothers in every way she could, not only by offering them a job but also through training, mentoring and financial support.
She now actively recruits women in the same position to work in her salon, Kalm Holistic Beauty in Dubai, which employs 32 ladies, about three quarters of whom are single mums.
“If I have two candidates who are very close to each other and one is a single mum and one is not, I will choose the single mum hands down,” says Ms Roux. “When I first started I didn’t start my business saying, ‘Right, I am going to start my business and I am going to employ single mums’.
“But I started to realise that there were so many women [needing help],” adds Ms Roux, 43, who is from the United Kingdom but grew up in Asia. She has lived in Dubai for the last 20 years. She split from her first husband shortly after her first child, now 18, was discharged from hospital following a three month stay after being born prematurely at 28 weeks. He weighed just 1.2 kilograms at birth.
He suffered from severe dyslexia and major learning difficulties growing up.
The Dubai Government paid for her son’s premature care in hospital at the time – back then everyone paid a small fee for a health card that covered all your treatment – but she struggled financially.
“I ended up in an apartment in Karama on my own with him. And he was a very difficult child because of his issues,” says Ms Roux, who has since remarried and gone on to have two more children.
“Of course we didn’t know when he was little what the issues were. He didn’t speak until he was three-and-a-half and he didn’t walk until he was well over two.”
The teenager was recently accepted into university, something Ms Roux credits his special schooling for.
His education was expensive, though, which made the process of setting up Kalm all the more complicated. The first two years after she launched the business, she juggled a full-time role as a regional marketing manager from 9am to 6pm working an evening shift at the salon from 6pm to 10pm.
She quit her job when the business was making enough.
“Of course I wanted to start a business, but then as soon as I started I realised I had this power to help people. And if you help people they just automatically help you in return,” she says.
“I have had comments like, ‘you are too soft with your staff’. Well actually no, I’m not. I am just fair.
“And kindness just comes straight back to you. My staff are very positive with me because I really do try to help them, whether it is giving them new skills or giving them targets where they can make extra money. The better the salon does, the better they do. When we do well we all gain from that.”
Recruiters say the strategy makes sense from an economic and social standpoint, by both increasing employment in the region, particularly of women, and doing something good.
“I find it heart-warming that an entrepreneur, in what is often a competitive market, so actively pursues a social agenda that will make a difference to people’s lives,” says Toby Simpson, the managing director of The Gulf Recruitment Group in Dubai.
“I very much hope and expect that such largesse will be rewarded with loyalty and hard work, making the policy not just one of the heart but one of the head.”
At first Ms Roux handed out loans to her staff, but that quickly became a burden, bringing the business Dh50,000 of debt.
Today she pays her employees early if they need money and offers financial incentives to women who take on training. She also treats her staff, paying for them to eat at places like the Jumeirah Beach Hotel on special occasions.
Such initiatives mean a lot to employees such as Crismen Tucneg, 36, a mother-of-three from the Philippines. She has worked for the company ever since she arrived in Dubai five years ago.
“I have been a single mum since I came to Dubai. It is hard when you think of your kids. It is a battle of emotions with homesickness and finances,” she says.
“Kalm it is not about the salary anymore. It is a part of it. But when you work in Dubai you have to consider the attitude of your boss.
“All of the girls stay here for three or four years now. They don’t leave. It is my second family now. It is like a second home.”
(Article first appeared in The National)