Saudi fund leads the way on empowering women

The panel was part of Diversity Council conference in the MENA, which promotes women’s leadership role. (Supplied)
Updated 04 July 2019

Saudi fund leads the way on empowering women

  • The discussion panel was titled "A Business Priority: Empowering Women Leaders"
  • Noor Shabib is the first woman in a senior executive role in SIDF

DUBAI: The proportion of women in the Saudi Industrial Development Fund workforce has increased from none to 13 percent in the past two years, the assistant director general for strategic planning and business development said on Wednesday.

The fund hired women in various positions, including as directors and managers, and across different organizations.

“We are very proud of this, we have been very, very busy, honestly, with everything that is happening in the Kingdom with Vision 2030,” said Noor Shabib.

She was speaking during a panel discussion entitled “A Business Priority: Empowering Women Leaders” during the Diversity Council conference, in Dubai.

Shabib is the first female senior executive in the fund, "plan(s) to increase contributions relative to GDP in industry, mining, logistics, and energy to $320 billion by 2030."

“Our ambition… is to attract the top talent,” she said, adding that allowing women to join the workforce means companies have a wider selection to ensure they are hiring the best candidates.

Shabib believes there are certain prerequisites that make it easier to empower women, such as support of top leadership, taking chances on women leaders, and providing a supportive and safe environment for them to work and lead. “And, I think if I was to summarize everything… (it) is to empower, listen and adjust,” she said.

Shabib was joined by the founder of the international Diversity Council Tine Willumsen, UN Resident Coordinator for the UAE Dena Assaf, and du CEO Osman Sultan, who gave their own inputs on how to help women reach leadership positions in business.

One of the tools is creating alliances between companies. “Every company has their own initiatives, their own milestones, but, when you are there together, you are a force, and it also creates a bit of competition,” Willumsen said.

Diversity is not only about gender though — it is also about experience and age, she added. Willumsen advised companies to be more courageous and hire based on potential rather than experience.

Other important factors are mentorship and the development of leadership pipelines.

Sometimes having specific initiatives to improve gender inclusivity may push companies to fill out seats with the required population just to check a box, Assaf warned. It is important to create sustainable solutions and ways for younger women to be promoted, she added.

The leadership pipeline is a model that creates a clear and visible system that identifies possible candidates for succession as well as the required process for their development. On the other hand, Sultan said there is no set of rules that defines how to promote women into leadership roles, as it is specific for each company and situation.

“There is input and output there, of course you can establish rules,” he added.

Other panelists discussed the specific challenges of the inclusion of women in leadership roles in Saudi Arabia. One of the particular problems in the Kingdom is the mainstream local culture, according to Xavier Anglada, the managing director of Accenture. There is a top-down effort of inclusion in Saudi Arabia, as the rulers push for women to become part of the workforce, but “there is a cultural challenge,” Anglada added.

The prevailing culture still dictates that women must prioritize family life, marriage and children above having a career.

The Diversity Council started in Denmark, but the solutions that were applied there need to be culturally filtered to fit the region’s specific needs and requirements, Willumsen said.

In fact, the changes in the region may actually provide an opportunity for the West to learn, especially on the cultural points of disagreement. “We have to understand what the thinking is, because that type of thinking can actually bring us further,” Danish Ambassador to the Kingdom Ole Moesby said.

He added that, over the past two years, he has witnessed change at a great pace in Saudi Arabia.

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

Updated 3 min 50 sec ago

Saudis recall history’s greatest TV event: Apollo moon landing

  • The TV images beamed from 320,000km away in space left viewers astounded but happy
  • The TV coverage influenced thinking and attitudes in the Kingdom just like everywhere else

DUBAI: It was a sleepy afternoon in Saudi Arabia, just days before the end of the school vacation, and Saudis had their eyes glued to their TV sets as they waited for live coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Before July 20, 1969, the idea of a human walking on the moon was the stuff of science fiction. However, almost overnight, sci-fi had turned into reality with a live broadcast showing American astronaut Neil Armstrong’s dramatic descent onto the empty lunar landscape.

Between science fiction and science fact, the live coverage of the lunar landing amounted to an unusual fusion of news and entertainment.

Saudi TV technicians bring the first live images of Neil Armstrong’s 1969 moon landing to
viewers around the Kingdom. (Supplied photo)

The historic images — beamed back to Earth more than 320,000 km away — left Saudi viewers astounded and confused, but mostly elated to be witnessing such an epoch-making event.

The event was covered live on television and radio stations in Saudi Arabia. Most Saudis and residents living in the Kingdom watched it on Saudi channels 1 and 3, owned by Saudi Aramco.

Hessah Al-Sobaie, a housewife from Al-Dawadmi, recalled watching the moon landing from her grandparents’ backyard as an 11-year-old.

“It felt weird watching a human walk on the moon,” she told Arab News. “I remember the endless questions I asked as a child.”

While most people were aware that going to the moon was risky, many Saudis believed that such a journey was impossible and all but unthinkable.


1. NASA’s Apollo 11 mission control room in Houston has been restored to its 1969 condition and regular tours
will be conducted by the Johnson Space Center.

2. NASA ‘Science Live’ will have a special edition on July 23 on board the aircraft carrier that recovered the Apollo 11 capsule.

3. A summer moon festival and family street fair will be held in Wapakoneta, Ohio, from July 17-20.

4. Downtown Houston’s Discovery green will host a free public screening of the ‘Apollo 11’ documentary, with an appearance by NASA astronaut Steve Bowen.

5. Amateur radio operators will host a series of events on July 20-21.

6. The US Space and Rocket Center is staging a special ‘Rockets on Parade’ exhibition.

The Apollo 11 mission prompted discussions across the Middle East over the reality of what people saw on their TV screens. Some Saudi scholars found it hard to believe their eyes.

“I watched it, and I clearly remember each and every detail of the coverage,” Hayat Al-Bokhari, 68, a retired school principal in Jeddah, said.

“My father, Abdul, was 56 at the time. He said the landing was faked. He couldn’t believe or accept that a human could go to the moon.”

Khaled Almasud, 70, a retired university lecturer, was a student in the US state of Oregon at the time of the mission. “Americans were stunned and over the moon, happy with their national achievement. But many Saudis like me were either in denial or insisting on more proof.”

Since the beginning of the 1960s, King Faisal had been rapidly transforming Saudi Arabia, inviting foreign-trained experts to help build a modern country with world-class infrastructure.

Billie Tanner, now 90, lived in the Kingdom for many years with her husband, Larry, and their two children, Laurie and Scott, aged six and four. The family had just arrived in Saudi Arabia and headed to the Aramco compound in Ras Tanura in the Eastern Province.

A screengrab of video of the first lunar landing beamed toward Earth and shown on television worldwide. 

“We were going through a culture shock,” she told Arab News. “I wasn’t thinking of the moon landing, but we heard about it on the news from Dhahran.

“My kids tried to see the astronauts on the moon with their binoculars and said they could see them walking around.”

The Apollo 11 spaceflight has become a milestone in the annals of human history and science. Since 1969 space exploration has greatly expanded man’s knowledge of the universe, far beyond Earth’s limits.

The captivating live coverage of the moon landing inspired millions of people around the world, profoundly influencing their thinking and attitudes.

The people of Saudi Arabia were no exception.