Saudi women have come a long way in the nation’s workforce in recent years. After being given the opportunity to prove themselves in a number of professional fields, they are increasingly contributing to the development of their nation in challenging leadership roles.
One of the biggest hurdles women faced in their efforts to redefine their role in modern Saudi society was the common, traditional misconception that they were suited only to domestic tasks and would not be able to perform well in public life or play a part in the development of the national economy.
It was not easy to convince a traditionally conservative society to give women the extra freedom needed for them to take on greater responsibilities for the benefit of the country.
Faced with these difficult circumstances, and with the support of the government, Saudi women nevertheless persisted and surprised many through their work and rapid achievements. They gained recognition and praise for their abilities and competence and can now be found in key leadership and management positions in the public and private sectors throughout the Kingdom.
Some people with more deep-rooted, conservative ideas of the role of women might still believe that leadership positions should be the domain of men, because of the firmness and determination they call for, and the intensity, strength and rigidity they require. These were traditionally been seen as male characteristics, while women were characterized by kind natures and tender hearts.
Yet the truth is that whatever other virtues they might possess, many women have always been good decision makers and in possession of well-developed leadership skills — all they needed was the chance to show it.
Now they have that chance, Saudi women are increasingly earning positions as company presidents and directors of businesses, and building careers as writers, poets and social activists. Some are successfully engaged in multiple jobs and careers.
Deemah Al-Yahya is an outstanding example of someone who deserves great praise for her impressive success, remarkable career and winning personality, and her way of making an indelible mark on her surroundings.
She is the first Saudi woman to succeed in a management role at an international organization. She previously worked as general manager of technical platforms and developers at Microsoft Arabia, and recently was appointed secretary-general of the Digital Cooperation Organization, which promotes the importance of multilateral cooperation in the digital economy.
The Kingdom is experiencing a cultural revolution, with true gender equality at its heart.
Shihana Saleh Al-Azzaz is another fine example. She is secretary-general of the board of directors of the Public Investment Fund (PIF), one of the largest sovereign wealth funds in the world, and is the first woman to participate in a PIF strategy discussion session chaired by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Her academic history is marked by excellence and brilliance in the field of law and was named by Forbes as one of the Middle East’s 100 Most Powerful Women of 2020.
Media and communications expert Jumana Al-Rashed, meanwhile, is CEO of the Saudi Research and Marketing Group, leading the board of directors of the largest media group in the Arab world.
Despite these remarkable successes, which are becoming increasingly common, there is still an entrenched section of Saudi society that begrudges women their professional skills and accomplishments. However, those who hold this view are in a diminishing minority and best ignored.
The Saudi government should be credited with adopting rational policies to empower women. These state policies paved the path to success for women in the country and has helped them to realize their full potential.
The Kingdom is experiencing a cultural revolution, with true gender equality at its heart. With these rational policies in place, Saudi women are increasingly finding themselves in positions to achieve their personal and professional goals, and to make significant contributions to the development of their nation.
• Fares Al-Ghannami is a Saudi writer and intellectual interested in political affairs. Twitter: @farescom200