TheFace: Esra Albuti, Saudi tax specialist

Esra Albuti. (AN photo by Ziyad Alarfaj)
Updated 28 December 2018
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TheFace: Esra Albuti, Saudi tax specialist

  • I was delighted to be the first female tax specialist accepted by the firm in Saudi Arabia

Esra Albuti: A life in numbers They say sons usually follow in their father’s footsteps. That wasn’t the case in my family. Instead, it was me that followed in my father’s footsteps — I am currently the youngest director in Ernst and Young’s Riyadh office — and I couldn’t be prouder.
Growing up in a family of six children (I was the second-youngest), I always looked up to my father who is a Certified Public Accountant and gained both his masters and Ph.D. in accounting from the US.
I fell in love with numbers and accounting as a child. I grew up reading my father’s CPA books. My dream started to take shape and I was determined to achieve it. I graduated from high school with a high GPA and enrolled in the School of Business at King Saud University, majoring in accounting. Maybe I should have studied computer science, given that accountants are seen by many as simply “cashiers.” However, my family made me realize that it is better to be a happy cashier than to listen to others and regret it.
I was a focused A+ student and made it to the Dean’s list and graduated top of my class with honors. It was at university that I first heard about Ernst and Young, one of the top accounting and auditing firms in the world. I was determined to work there.
I did have slight concerns that I could be rejected, since I graduated from a public university, but I’ve never let the word ‘no’ deter me. I saw it as a challenge to get Ernst and Young to accept me, and I was determined to meet that challenge.
I was delighted to be the first female tax specialist accepted by the firm in Saudi Arabia. Although working in an all-male environment was initially challenging, the support of my family and the firm, combined with my work ethic, enabled me to gain the trust of my colleagues and of the company as a whole.
I feel proud that, through my career, I am giving back to my country and the next generation of females by encouraging and hiring Saudi female students to join this practice and by raising awareness of specializing in such a unique industry as taxes. I was honored to be the first female manager in Saudi Arabia in all of EY’s service lines.
I was also so proud to be nominated to become the first Saudi female partner specializing in tax for EY in Saudi Arabia. That’s been my dream since I joined the company. I am still ambitious and always looking for new challenges. I believe that there is no limit to what we, as women, can accomplish.
In my spare time, I enjoy to drawing and painting. I find it relieves stress. I have put many of my paintings up at home. I also enjoy traveling, particularly to London. I spent a year in EY’s London office, and I grew to love the city for what it really is.
I’m also a part-time instructor — I teach tax and zakat classes in universities. I love teaching the younger generation and helping them practice this unique subject. I’m happy and proud that I’m able to inspire my students to specialize in taxes and to join EY.


How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

Dr. Fatima Alakeel, cybersecurity expert. (AN photo)
Updated 20 March 2019
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How Saudi women are getting ahead of men as STEM graduates

  • ‘Securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,’ says Dr. Fatema Alakeel of King Saud University in Riyadh
  • ‘Saudi women are ambitious,’ says one graduate. ‘We are acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers’

DUBAI: More and more girls in Saudi Arabia are opting for an education in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and now the challenge is finding them employment, said Dr. Fatima Alakeel, a cybersecurity expert and faculty member at King Saud University (KSU) in Riyadh.
“In the Kingdom, STEM-related jobs are limited at the moment, as the economy is primarily oil-based and there are few technical jobs available,” said Alakeel, who is also the founder and CEO of the non-profit Confidentiality, Integrity & Availability Group (CIAG), which focuses on information security training and research in Riyadh.
According to a government report on the labor market situation in the third quarter of 2018, more than 30 percent of Saudi women aged between 15 and 65 are unemployed.
Among them, the highest rate of unemployment is among 20-24-year-olds (more than 70 percent) and among 25-29-year-olds (55 percent).
According to the report, there are 923,504 Saudi jobseekers, of whom 765,378 are women (82.2 percent).
“We have more girls in STEM education compared to Western countries,” said Alakeel, who completed her doctoral degree in computer science in the UK at the University of Southampton in 2017.
According to a report prepared by the Saudi Education Ministry, girls accounted for 57 percent of undergraduates for the year 2015-2016 in the Kingdom.
That same year, women outnumbered men in graduating with a bachelor’s in biology, information technology (IT), mathematics and statistics, and physics.
According to a survey Alakeel recently conducted on social media, “almost 80 percent of (Saudi) girls were keen to study STEM, but securing a job after the degree remains the challenge,” she said.
Maha Al-Taleb, 22, graduated earlier this year with a degree in technology from KSU, specializing in IT networks and security.
“It’s common for girls in the Kingdom to opt for STEM education,” said Al-Taleb, who now works in a public sector company in Riyadh as a junior information security analyst.
“Saudi women are ambitious. We’re acquiring high degrees and seeking successful careers. I don’t know why the world assumes that Saudi women are a backward tribal species who have no say in these matters. This entire perception is flawed.”
Al-Taleb got a job offer immediately after university, but realizes that not all her peers are as fortunate. Women “are facing problems in securing jobs, not because companies don’t want to hire us, but because employment for Saudi youths is a major challenge,” she said.
“In today’s Saudi Arabia, parents are encouraging their daughters to get a degree not just in the Kingdom; they also want them to go to Western universities. It has become a common phenomenon. Things have changed. Women are a crucial part of the nation’s development process.”
Not all women graduating in the Kingdom are as lucky, among them Razan Al-Qahtani. “It has been several months since I graduated, yet I haven’t been able to find a job. It has been a struggle so far,” said the 25-year-old IT graduate. “We have more talented and qualified girls, especially in the field of technology, but there are few jobs available. It’s a difficult situation, but we’re hopeful things will change very soon.”
Al-Qahtani expressed confidence that the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform plan will bring opportunities for qualified Saudis.
As part of Vision 2030, the government has committed to raise employment among Saudi women.
Alakeel said the government is working hard to find a solution, and it is only a matter of time until more such jobs are on offer.
“As per Vision 2030, there will be more jobs, including technical jobs, available in the country. Once we have more jobs, women will eventually get their due share,” she added. According to Alakeel, female empowerment and promotion to leading roles have made huge progress in Saudi Arabia, and this may affect existing STEM job opportunities.
“We’re glad to see Her Royal Highness Princess Reema bint Bandar Al-Saud becoming the first female ambassador of the country. It only suggests change is on the way,” Alakeel said.
Al-Taleb expressed pride in the way her parents have supported her, saying: “My father isn’t educated and my mother has basic literacy, but both provided me with the education I desired. They want their daughters to be as successful as their sons.”
Like women in any country, the transition from university to the workplace is not always easy, even for young Saudi women with technology degrees. Yet they are not losing hope.
“We realize these are difficult times in terms of employment, especially in technology-related fields, but things will change,” Al-Taleb said. “Saudi women will soon be ruling the fields of STEM all over the country.”