WORKING WOMEN

Saudi Arabia 2017 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: WOMEN’S EMPLOYMENT UNDER VISION 2030

One of the key ambitions of the government's Vision 2030 includes encouraging female participation in the labor market, and progress—though a long road—is already underway.

Introducing new job opportunities for women and increasing female employment rates to 30%, as well as emphasizing their leading role in the socio-economic development, is a major part of the Vision's plan. As of 2016, female employment in the Kingdom stood at 22%, and women are typically employed in a limited range of sectors, such as education.

Some of the major challenges that the government is facing on its way to female labor empowerment include creating a suitable work environment, given the country's laws on gender-mixing. Compounding this challenge, women have historically found difficulties entering the workforce due to not being able to drive and guardianship laws. Though in recent years, the government has introduced unprecedented regulatory changes to encourage women's participation in the labor market.

Namely, it has expanded the list of sectors in which females can work to include pharmaceuticals, retail, hospitality, and law. Likewise, in May 2017, a royal decree officially relaxed guardianship laws to allow women to seek employment without the permission of their male guardian. Additionally, the government pushed a requirement for companies with over 15 female employees that they must have a child care center and increase maternity leave to 10 weeks.

As so much of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 focuses on enabling growth in the private sector, a large part of these reforms will specifically target female employment in this segment. As such, the government has partnered with companies like Glowork, whose task is to connect highly educated Saudi women to various job opportunities. The firm hires 28 women daily and interviews 4,000 women weekly, on average. Speaking exclusively to TBY, Glowork's CEO Khalid Alkhudair explained that the company “was among the first to hire women in the retail industry five years ago. We have also managed to establish a virtual office tool for women living in rural areas to work remotely, which is now a part of Vision 2030. Today, as many as 200,000 women work from their homes in the private sector. Currently, Glowork is working on an online application which would allow women to be hired through social media platforms, based on data from their social network activities.”

The Saudi government has also created fertile ground for an entertainment industry, which is opening new possibilities for Saudi women in screenwriting, film production, and animation. This spring, the Jeddah-based Effat University is having its first graduating class of female filmmaker bachelor's degree holders in visual and digital production. The all-female university's program is developing Saudia Arabia's budding film industry, and graduates should occupy about 30% of available film production jobs. Those who do not enter existing positions will likely create their own companies, also becoming entreprenurs or working as freelancers.
The finance industry is also seeing progress towards women's increased participation in the workforce. Within a one-week timespan in February 2017, three top jobs in banking and finance were filled by women. Samba Financial Group, one of Saudi Arabia's top banks, appointed Rania Nashar as CEO; Arab National Bank appointed Latifa Al Sabhan as CFO; and the country's stock exchange named Sarah Al Suhaimi as chairman. Al Suhaimi is also the CEO of NCB Capital investment bank.

However, women in influential positions are not enough, and more needs to be done to address the gender-gap in employment. In addition to addressing legislation to allow women to seek employment, women need to further develop their skills before entering the work force. Approximately 60% of all university graduates are women, and according to Glowork's CEO, many of them have difficulties finding jobs because they do not possess the right skill set to apply their knowledge from academia into the workforce. In other words, universities need to cater their programs to better meet women's professional needs. Women's increased productivity and participation will spark investments and job creation, contributing to Saudi Arabia's economy and Vision 2030.