Over the years, we have witnessed the truly remarkable transformation of women in the workforce in Saudi Arabia. The Royal Decree of 2017 recognizing women's right to drive was a monumental step toward enabling the mobility of female employees. However, significant changes began shaping the nation much earlier — from the appointment of the first female Vice Minister in 2009 to welcoming female members in the Shoura Council in 2013.
The transformation has primarily been driven by an overall focus on educating women. In fact, in 2008, it was announced that Princess Noura University in Riyadh was the largest university for women in the world.1 These steps are just the tip of the iceberg as Saudi Arabia sets the stage for equal participation on the world stage, which will prove to be a crucial factor in the success of Vision 2030.
From a global perspective, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is part of a wider dialogue taking place in the workforce. This conversation includes the issue of equal pay in North America, the lack of female board representation in Europe and everything in between. In fact, Mercer runs a campaign in collaboration with the World Economic Forum, which features a study called When Women Thrive.
According to the study, at the current rate of change, it will take 217 years to close the global economic gap between the genders. At the same time, it is becoming increasingly clear that gender equality and the participation of women in the workforce must be taken into account for growth in business and society as a whole.
The report also suggests that a diverse workforce is a business imperative proven to boost the bottom line. Organizations around the world are realizing the benefits and making a conscious effort to increase representation in senior leadership and enable the upward progression of women. From a local perspective, leading up to Vision 2030, there have been many announcements from notable organizations, including the government and private sector, appointing females in leadership, executive and board of director positions.
Recently, Saudi Aramco, the world's most profitable oil company, appointed its first woman to the board, while Citigroup appointed a female as the head of their business in Saudi. Companies are making sustained progress in increasing representation in senior leadership, enabling the upward progression of women and closing the pay gap. They are hiring and promoting talent based on competence, as talent and capability are the determining factors in operational success, and women are ready to lead the way.
So, how exactly can organizations in Saudi Arabia ensure women thrive, thereby driving Vision 2030? Today, almost 50% of the population in Saudi Arabia is female, but currently, only 20% of the workforce is female.3 At the same time, females tend to hold a greater percentage of higher education degrees. There is room for utilizing this talent by unlocking the enormous potential of women in Saudi Arabia.
The When Women Thrive study outlines ways in which organizations can facilitate gender equality. For example, analyzing workforce data allows employers to see which career experiences have higher developmental value and assess whether or not women have equal access to those opportunities. Employers can then take into consideration reskilling opportunities and optimally deploy talent in a way that ensures female employees are satisfied with their learning. As a result, organizations benefit from having motivated employees that deliver value in new ways.
With the large scale of transformation in Saudi Arabia, people and skills will be key to the success of Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, as people are the driving force behind all great change. Given the recent advancements in opportunities for women and the knowledge and skills they will bring to an increasingly diverse workforce, sustainable growth is dependent on harnessing the right talent to fuel the future. The result is positioning Saudi Arabia from a country that was once oil-driven to one that is talent driven.
Over the coming years, it will be fascinating to see how women continue to shape growth in Saudi Arabia to unleash the Kingdom's true potential.
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1"World's Largest University for Women Launched in Saudi Arabia", Arab News, May 2011,https://www.edarabia.com/21384/worlds-largest-university-for-women-launched-in-saudi-arabia/.
2"Our Vision: Saudi Arabia, the Heart of the Arab and Islamic Worlds, the Investment Powerhouse and the Hub Connecting Three Continents," Saudi Vision 2030,https://vision2030.gov.sa/en.
3Trading Economics, 20 Million Indicators From 196 Countries,https://tradingeconomics.com.
This article was originally published on May .2, 2019, for Mercer Voice of Growth
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