Saudi Arabia encourages women’s representation in workplaces
JEDDAH: More women employees are joining workplaces and boardrooms in Saudi Arabia, with gender equality a key target of a regional drive to improve environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, Arab News reported.
While measurable progress has been achieved in recent years, there is a room for further improvement to consolidate these changes into a lasting and broad-based transformation.
“Saudi Arabia recognises that it has a large, untapped pool of talent. There is plenty of work being done to leverage this asset, as empowering women is a goal of Vision 2030,” Lilac Ahmad Al-Safad, president of the Saudi Electronic University (SEU), told Oxford Business Group.
In recent years, the country has implemented a raft of measures designed to expand women’s economic inclusion. These have ranged from allowing women to drive cars, to changes in labour and family laws.
The changes have helped achieve measurable results; more than 51,000 Saudi women joined the job market in 2020, and the kingdom aims at providing jobs to around one million women by 2030.
The World Bank report awarded Saudi Arabia 80 points of the 100, slightly below the UAE and on a par with Chile.
In addition to expanding participation in the workplace, the new measures aim at boosting entrepreneurship among women.
“Micro-businesses are an often-overlooked segment of the economy, despite generating a notably positive social impact, particularly in relation to the economic empowerment of women,” Ibrahim Al-Rashid, CEO of the Kingdom’s Social Development Bank, told OBG. “However, Saudi Arabia is increasingly paying attention to the segment.”
The number of women entrepreneurs in the kingdom is reported to have increased 50 per cent in 2019, while a 2020/21 report by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor found that the highest rates of entrepreneurial intentions among women were reported in MENA, with Saudi women entrepreneurs driving this trend.
Looking at the talent pipeline, more young Saudi women are opting to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and 38 per cent of Saudi STEM graduates are women.
In some fields this share is higher. According to Unesco, 59 per cent of students enrolled in computer science in Saudi Arabia are women, compared with 14 per cent and 16 per cent in the US and the UK, respectively.
The SEU’s Al-Safadi was appointed president of the institution in 2020, becoming the first woman president of a Saudi co-educational university. This month the SEU launched WEmpower, a women’s research accelerator, to give women faculty and postgraduate students a chance to learn from research experts.
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