Tuesday, 20 September 2016 16:46

How important is women’s leadership in Saudi Arabia to Vision 2030?

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Women will play an important part in the long term success of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – but how important?

King Salman Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud has said: “My first objective is for our country to be a pioneering and successful global model of excellence on all fronts.” And in the Kingdom’s National Transformation Program 2020, which outlines future workforce skills for this success, the document is full of clear targets to increase the number of women working in the civil service and private sector, training in teleworking for jobs at home and training initiatives to ensure these women have the skills the country needs.

Below are just two examples of these targets and it is heartening to see Saudi Arabia, like the rest of the world, is aiming to have more women in senior positions. The target is to increase the number of women in Grade 11 and above positions from 1.27% of the civil service to 5%.

 

fem grafic 01

 

fem grafic 02

 

What are the challenges in empowering women? No matter where you go in the world, the stats about women at the top are pitiful – the stats below are from the McKinsey report, Women in the Workplace 2015. Many of the challenges for women in Saudi Arabia will be the same the world over, but here I am looking at those specific to the country and what we can all do to help the Kingdom achieve its ambitious targets.

 

fem grafic 03

 

The four barriers to women in the workforce

There are four challenges making it difficult for women to work in Saudi Arabia – some of these can be addressed by government, others are cultural and will take longer.

  • The first obvious step is to increase opportunities for women – the vision is there in the National Transformation Program but the government must ensure these are delivered
  • Physical segregation at work makes collaboration and simple dialogue difficult. We have already seen the challenge earlier this year when Albawaba reported: “The third phase [of feminization] was supposed to start last October … dedicated to the feminization of women shops in small governorates. The plan was delayed as there were many adjustments that needed to be completed in order to feminize many of the shops.”
  • There are pressures from society for women to be the home-makers and mothers, but women can be home makers, great mothers and also have a career and contribute to the economy
  • Many people are still not comfortable with seeing women in the workplace

 

What changes could increase the number of working women in Saudi Arabia?

I have discussed this subject with my female Saudi colleagues and other leading women in the country. Here I share their views of what changes could help achieve more working women in the country

  • Changes to the culture around guardianship for women – this could be changed/updated by the government. At the moment women need permission from their father, brother or the eldest male in the family (which could be their son) in order to work. Allowing them independence to make their own decisions would be a considerable step
  • Increased education. While women’s education was a significant achievement of King Abdullah’s reign, the main focus was on higher education – women now account for 58% of all Saudi university students and that is expected to increase further.   However there is still a reluctance to allow women to take up subjects such as engineering, aviation and construction or allowed on medical programs such as general surgery or paediatrics – or to travel overseas for education
  • Women setting up their own businesses. Bayan Mahmoud Al Zahran was the first Saudi woman lawyer who launched her female law firm in Jeddah in 2014. The firm is highly successful at using Twitter and finding clients through social media – and this trend of women employing women will help increase the rate of female employment.

A number of corporates have introduced sponsorship for women – Aramco is one that comes to mind. And I believe it is this multi-pronged leadership from the King, the government, corporates and, above all, women themselves that will ensure the Kingdom achieves its aims. There is no lack of enthusiasm from women, now it is time for us all to tap into their talent.

 

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