A new report by executive search firm Metin Mitchell & Co highlights the confidence that Saudi women feel about their working futures and what needs to be done to increase the number of women in the workplace. This is a critical part of helping the Kingdom to achieve its transformational Vision 2030.
While the findings are specific to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the women's comments will resonate across the Gulf region.
Roads to the Top for Saudi Women is based on interviews with pioneering women from education, medicine, financial services, philanthropy, e-commerce and the professions. They shared experiences of their working lives and success and their perspectives of what the government, society and women themselves can do to encourage the next generation of working women. Interviews were carried out with HRH Princess Banderi bint Abdulrahman AlFaisal, Dr Amal Fatani, May bint Mohammed Al-Hoshan, Hala Kudwah, Dr Taghreed M Al-Saraj, Dr Sameera Maziad Al Tuwaijri and others.
Mr Metin Mitchell, founder of the executive search firm behind the report, said: "The women's comments will resonate across the Middle East - the big picture is similar across the region. The biggest challenge is how we support women into middle management to see a step change in achieving targets. Our female interviewees talked about the importance of role models and mentors. The other strong message is that women themselves are keen to help the Saudi government achieve its Vision 2030 targets - and they gave practical suggestions to do this."
Mr Mitchell says he has long been an advocate of women in the workplace: "I have seen first hand, in more than 20 years of headhunting in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East, that time and again it is the women who are the outstanding candidates on our shortlists. I have been delighted to see them excel in their careers and become wonderful role models to the next generation of women.
"That is what this report is about. These early female leaders have a wealth of insights and expertise to help future female leaders - but also to give their perspective on how to speed up the rate that women progress in the workplace and use their skills to help the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia succeed in its ambitions."
Mr Mitchell believes that to increase the number of women working and in more senior roles there need to be flexible working patterns to combine family and work balance. He added: "Work needs to be measured by outcomes rather than hours worked. Women are very good at working remotely and delivering results - they don't always have to be in an office. A mentor should be appointed to new female recruits and HR and management need to look at how they hire for talent rather than experience."
HRH Princess Banderi bint Abdulrahman AlFaisal, Director General at King Khalid Foundation said: "We need to change some of the male and female stereotypes and set roles. People should be equal, it isn't your gender that matters, it's what you do and how and what you contribute to your family and society. We already see two-income households more and more in the country. Recently, especially in Vision 2030, the focus is on providing women with opportunities to study and work. Our society is changing and both men and women need to be open to change. I think female economic empowerment is very important for the future of our country."
Those interviewed stressed the importance of the family in the success of a woman. Many fathers encouraged and were the inspiration to their daughters, while supportive husbands have withstood cultural pressures to help their wives succeed. As one interviewee said, "The family unit will always remain the major portion of a holistic, stable society." To help, women would like to see quality childcare introduced at work.
The report includes tips from these trailblazing women for the next generation, ranging from the need to find a mentor to being confident about aiming for the boardroom if that is what a woman wants. There were also ideas about how women can help each other. One said: "I read an article that said in the Obama administration they had very few women, so they came up with a strategy to amplify their voice. If May says we should focus on the strategy of expanding in the eastern region then Noura, another woman in the room a few minutes later would repeat what May said to make sure May was heard. It can be as simple as reiterating what somebody else said in a meeting."
Mr Mitchell added: "These women were very clear about their own Saudi identity - they don't want to be the same as in the West or even the rest of the Middle East. They are proud of their country and their own role in its successful future."
Saudi Vision 2030 has a target to increase women's participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% - the government is delivering reforms to achieve this and encouraging changes in cultural practices to make them work.
The report, Roads to the Top for Saudi Women, can be downloaded free from http://www.metin-mitchell.com.
SOURCE: Metin Mitchell & Co