Building Saudi Arabia’s B20 legacy for women everywhere
The Middle East and North Africa region is often categorized as a place where women have few opportunities, but we are breaking those stereotypes, starting at home. Our region has made huge progress in driving the economic empowerment of women, many of whom are leaders in the private and government sectors, as well as in their entrepreneurial ventures. But, as with the rest of the world, there is still a huge amount of work to be done to reach true equality.
The World Bank’s report “Women, Business and the Law 2020” ranked Saudi Arabia as the world’s top reformer in advancing women’s economic participation for 2019. This is recognition of the legislative policies the country established to boost female participation in the workforce, which it aims to increase from an average of just under 20 percent to more than 40 percent as part of Vision 2030. This also includes support to female entrepreneurs as they realize the dream of being business owners. Further, we have 35,000 Saudi women currently studying in 60 foreign countries on government scholarships, fulfilling the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 targets based on the roles of women and youth.
There has been remarkable progress so far and I am confident that this is just the beginning of our journey. However, as we work toward our goals, we also need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
The latest global research continues to paint an alarming picture of the gender gap in the workplace. A study commissioned by UN Women found that women still only earn 77 cents for every dollar earned by men, while the World Economic Forum found that only 55 percent of women (aged 15 to 64) are engaged in the labor market, as opposed to 78 percent of men. This picture only becomes more depressing when we look at the number of women in leadership or entrepreneurial roles. This year, there were only 37 female CEOs in the Fortune 500 companies list.
Making up 70 percent of front-line health care and service workers, women are currently demonstrating their critical role in addressing one of the largest crises in recent history. However, the coronavirus disease pandemic and subsequent recovery is expected to widen the gender pay gap even further.
But there is cause for optimism, as some countries, governments and businesses across the world are not only recognizing the need for equality, but are also seeing its very real and tangible rewards. New analysis by the Boston Consulting Group shows that, if women and men participated equally as entrepreneurs, the global gross domestic product could rise by between 3 and 6 percent, boosting the global economy by $2.5 trillion to $5 trillion. Given the economic crisis the entire world is currently facing, we cannot afford to ignore the benefits gender equality can offer.
As we work toward our goals, we need to understand, and collaborate on remedying, the inequality issues many women still face.
During this year’s G20 Presidency of Saudi Arabia, the B20 established the inaugural Women in Business (WIB) Action Council and it has been my honor to serve as chair. This role has refueled my optimism, as leveling the playing field for women in the workforce has been central to all our work across the B20.
The B20’s role, as the business voice of the G20, is to identify the most pressing priorities impacting all business — large and small — in the developed and developing worlds. It is important to note that the WIB Action Council is the first initiative of its kind in the history of the G20 and B20. And we have broken records too, with women constituting 33 percent of the overall task force and action council membership, and 43 percent of the chairs.
Over the past year, the B20 has engaged with more than 650 business leaders across the G20 and beyond through its six task forces and WIB Action Council in an effort to ensure an inclusive and action-oriented process. Together, we have developed 25 recommendations to make to the G20 that we believe will help restore and reinvigorate the global economy. These recommendations have now been submitted and will be considered at the G20 summit next month.
The WIB Action Council recommendations call on the G20 to take the necessary action to unlock the advancement and full leadership potential of women by driving reforms, fostering an inclusive environment, ensuring fair and equal pay and encouraging new methods of flexible working.
We also recommended promoting female business ownership by creating an enabling environment for female-founded startups and eliminating barriers to expertise and finance. We also asked for a comprehensive “Women in STEM” road map to be implemented to increase the number of women in high-skilled jobs.
Finally, we are calling for a diverse cross-section of women to be included in all stages of policy design, with national policies on equality to be evaluated and amended to ensure they protect the rights and equal opportunities of women, and the implementation of policies for employers that set goals and transparent disclosure requirements to increase women in leadership positions.
As Saudi women, we have made history and will undoubtedly leave a legacy for future B20s. To advance, we must collectively encourage and support the G20 to make these recommendations a reality and ensure we leave a lasting legacy for future generations of women, and men, across the world.
• Rania Nashar is Chair of the Women in Business Action Council at B20 Saudi Arabia, the voice of the private sector to the G20