KING ABDULLAH ECONOMIC CITY, Saudi Arabia: Gender quotas can be a driving force to include more women in the workplace, said Dr. Lama Al-Sulaiman, vice chairwoman and board member, Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) at the Arab Women Forum on Tuesday.
“I am completely pro quota. There is no way it is going to start in any company unless there is a legislation to impose the participation of women and then they are going to find the woman that would suit them the most. Some are going to succeed while some are going to fail,” she said.
Al-Sulaiman made history in 2005 when she was elected to the board of directors of the JCCI alongside with Nashwa Taher, while two others were appointed on the board. At that time she said women were not allowed to use the same entrance as their male counterparts. Two years later, there were 50 women working at the Chamber of Commerce out of just over 300 working in different departments. She said that “although it sounds small… it was really a big step.”
Speaking to Arab News at the sidelines of the Arab Women Forum Sulaiman said a quota did not have to be enforced permanently.
“We can impose quota policy until we reach a reasonable percentage; until we reach, let’s say, 30 percent of women in the workforce as per Vision 2030.”
If a leader believes in boosting the presence of women in the workplace, everybody below him would want to show that they are moving at the same pace and towards the same goal, Sulaiman said.
In a culture that mainly gives the responsibility of protecting members of the family to men, moving in uncharted waters can be worrying she said.
And she added that overprotecting women can be a bottleneck that hinders women from growing and taking the risks to reach higher positions. “Sometimes over-protection might hinder women’s growth. Fathers have to believe in their daughter and have the confidence that this woman will be able to face all the struggle that she can face,” Al-Sulaiman told Arab News.
The JCCI’s vice chairwoman said the conversation needed to be ongoing, and holding such conferences kept it alive. “Role models” get to share their stories, she said, and talk about how they made it into business.
She said women who are striving to reach leadership positions are going through similar experiences that those at the top have gone through.
“They went through the same obstacles. They cried. They cracked. They went back home crying like a little kid and maybe cried on the shoulder of a husband or a father and said they cannot go back again. We all thought of resigning. We all thought of giving up.”
When asked about what makes a woman in that position get back up and continue the journey, Al-Sulaiman said: “Your passion. You need to be passionate about what you do. If you are working in a place that is not bringing out your passion, there is no way you can confront the obstacles that you will face.”
Once women look at reaching higher positions and thinking of their career, they need to work harder and twice as much as their male counterparts “because you need to be seen and heard” and to be seen and heard you need to prove that they can do better.
More women are yet to reach leading positions since at the moment, there are still very few female Top CEO in the region. Until that is achieved, Sulaiman said it is important to “keep having conversations about the increased participation of Arab women.”