Are Saudi Private Businesses Finally Waking Up To The Benefits Of Having Women In The Workplace?

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While the leaders of the GCC launched themselves into a diplomatic cataclysm of epic proportions this week, and it seems our region is now firmly in the grips of political unrest, the women of Saudi Arabia have a glimmer of good news to report on the business front.

According to a report released by AccountAbility and Glowork this month, it appears that there have been some positive developments with regards to women employment and an increase in management and leadership positions.

The researchers investigated the drivers behind the employment and promotion of women, and found that diversity and inclusion motivations appear to be why most organizations support women advancement into management and leadership positions.

“This was a driver for more 42% of participants,” the report reveals.

This is progress considering that most companies in the kingdom only hired their first female employees after 2010.

And this also seems to be a sentiment among a growing number of Saudi leaders.

It’s not the government

Last year, the Kingdom announced its Vision 2030, which included aims to improve the status of female employment—specifically targeting an increase of 8% in the number of women employed by 2030.

But as research has shown over and over again, an increase in female participation in the workforce obviously helps but does not directly link to an increase in the proportion of female managers.

Also, and interestingly, it’s not the political mandate that’s driving this progressive sentiment. The report reveals that only one in 10 companies are driven by alignment to the national policy environment.

“Compliance with government initiatives and mandates is not a driving factor for most employers. In some ways, this is positive, as it shows that companies look beyond legislation and compliance drivers and move towards realizing the value of promoting women into management and leadership positions.”

Currently, the participation of women in the Saudi labor force, notably in the private sector, is abysmally low. Similarly, the proportion of women reaching management and leadership levels is low when compared to the global or regional average.

2016’s Global Gender Gap Report placed Saudi Arabia in the lowest quartile of participating countries, ranking 141th out of 144 countries.

“This indicates the need for further female-oriented policies and actions in order to increase the economic participation and opportunity for women, and encourage their career advancement,” the report said.

Where are the women leaders?

While 50% of survey participants say that women make up more than 15% of their workforce, an underrepresentation of women in management and leadership positions is evident, as 50% of survey participants also have less than 1% of women in leadership roles.

On a positive note, the report indicated a good variety of recruitment practices was indicated, positively showing that companies aim to proactively recruit women so as to identify female talent to bring into the workforce.

With regards to policies encouraging the inclusion of women within the workforce, researchers observed the vast majority (79%) of respondents have an equal pay policy in place.

They also noticed a wide range of female development structures were further indicated, aiming to support the career advancement of women.

With Saudi Arabia’s ambitious targets to diversify resources with the vision of becoming a thriving economy, the need for a competitive workforce is emerging as a primary issue of concern.

“As the Kingdom prioritizes developing its workforce, providing equal opportunities for women is becoming an imperative for competitiveness,” the report says.

“It [the report] comes at a time where women are strongly competing for leadership positions and in line with the government’s vision. This study will assist the private sector in their decision making going forward when it comes to inclusion and hopefully women at the board levels,” said Khalid Alkhudair, CEO of Glowork.

Glowork was formed by young Saudi entrepreneurs with a goal to bring empowerment to women and increase diversity in the Saudi workforce.

David Pritchett, global head of research at AccountAbility echoed these thoughts, “we have seen evidence of a strong momentum in the Kingdom with regard to improving gender equality in management and leadership roles. I’m excited to follow the further progress over the next five years as companies experience tangible benefit and value from female management”.