RIYADH: Women joining the workforce in Saudi Arabia has been a key development of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 social and economic reforms, which has seen their participation jump from 19% in 2016 to 33% last year.
These findings are highlighted by the Total Remuneration Survey 2021, an annual study carried out in the Kingdom and in other countries around the world by Mercer, a New York-based global human resources consultancy.
“The survey gives us a lot of good insights on the demographics of the Saudi workforce, as well as compensation and benefits across different sectors, which we use to support clients and organizations to make decisions based on data and market insights,” Najla Najm, Mercer partner, Saudi Arabia told Arab News.
The government, healthcare and education sectors have traditionally seen a higher level of female employment in the Kingdom. But Najm points out that a growing number of women have entered cutting-edge IT and AI-related professions like data science and cybersecurity in recent years. Also, technical industries such as aviation and newly emerging sectors like tourism and entertainment have seen expanding female participation.
There are already several well-known and high-profile Saudi female professionals. Lubna Olayan is chair of the Saudi British Bank, Sarah Al-Suhaimi is chair of Tadawul, the Saudi stock exchange, and Rania Nashar is a former CEO of the Samba Financial Group.
Afrah Al-Othman was recently in the news as the first Arab female to take an unmanned submarine in deep water, while a 30-strong female crew is currently being trained to drive high-speed trains on the Makkah-Medina line.
However, the Mercer survey drills down to reveal a fuller picture of female participation in the Saudi workforce.
It shows that women are most strongly represented in the human resources sector, where they take up 17% of managerial and executive positions, the legal profession, where they comprise 11% of managerial jobs; and sales and marketing, with women making up 8% of managerial posts and 7% of executive roles.
However, even with the recent rise in female entrants to more technical professions, the survey shows that women still hold no more than 4% of IT management positions and 3% of management roles in administration.
But Najm cautioned against drawing instant conclusions from these bald numbers.
“I think the story we want to focus on is not necessarily the percentage of women today, but the percentage of growth within women in the workforce”, she noted. “And these numbers show great progress in a short period of time, which means that there are more and more opportunities available for females to participate in the workforce and reach their full potential.”
Also, the Mercer report points out that a growing number of Saudi women choose to start their own businesses. There has been a jump of 112% in commercial registrations issued for women entrepreneurs since 2015 — ranging from home-based catering or tailoring services to much larger concerns hiring hundreds or even thousands of workers.
Najm points out that female entrepreneurship is nothing new in the Kingdom.
“Historically, many Saudi women chose to start their own business due to the previous lack of employment opportunities”, she said. “But today you have so many facilities and platforms that support Saudi entrepreneurs, both male and female.”
One such government-run agency is Monsha’at, the Small and Medium Enterprises General Authority, which provides a host of services and advice to startup founders.
Nouf Al-Qahtani, owner of the NSHQ chain of perfumeries and Abeer Al-Hashim, founder of the Nine Soft Serve ice-cream chain, both benefitted from Monsha’at’s hands-on marketing and management guidance.
“The entire commercial process is easier now,” Al-Hashim told Arab News, “Especially in terms of tech applications — it’s so simple to communicate with the government online, and as a woman you no longer need a man to speak on your behalf.”
Al-Qahtani added: “We get such a lot of official support, and that’s something that I’m very proud of.”
Najm believes that the social and economic transformation of Vision 2030 is having an impact right across the Kingdom.
She said: “As we move towards a more knowledge-based economy, the people of the country will help enable the realization of that vision.
“The future of the Kingdom lies within the people, and the youth, and women of course are half of the population. So, women definitely have a big role to play in the future vision of this country.”