Over 51,000 Saudi women joined the job market in 2020, underscoring the fact more and more female employees are joining workplaces and boardrooms in the Kingdom. The escalating numbers are largely due to a range of measures the country has implemented in recent years, which are designed to expand women’s economic inclusion, varying from allowing women to drive cars, to changes in labour and family law.
Proud https://t.co/vxxtrOTjYM— الوليد للإنسانية (@alwaleed_philan) August 30, 2021
And with gender equality being a key target of a regional drive to improve environmental, social and governance (ESG) standards, the numbers are only likely to keep increasing. In fact, the Saudi government aims to provide jobs to around 1m women by 2030.
“Saudi Arabia recognises that it has a large, untapped pool of talent. There is plenty of work being done to leverage this asset, as empowering women is a goal of Vision 2030,” Lilac Ahmad Al Safadi, the first female president of the Saudi Electronic University (SEU), told the Oxford Business Group (OBG), a global research and advisory company with a presence in over 30 countries.
In addition to expanding participation in the workplace, the new measures aim to boost entrepreneurship among women.
“Micro-businesses are an often-overlooked segment of economy, despite generating a notably positive social impact – particularly in relation to the economic empowerment of women,” Ibrahim Al Rashid, CEO of the Kingdom’s Social Development Bank, told OBG, a distinctive and respected provider of on-the-ground intelligence on world’s fastest-growing markets. “However, Saudi Arabia is increasingly paying attention to the segment.”
Meet Rasha Alqahtani, a Saudi 18-year-old who is creating a video-game feature to help diagnose teens with anxiety.— About Her (@AboutHerOFCL) August 29, 2021
Her innovative tool, shattering mental health stigmas, won her a behavioral science award in this year’s Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair. pic.twitter.com/Jecql1rGuP
In fact, the number of female entrepreneurs in the Kingdom is reported to have increased by 50 percent in 2019. Additionally, a 2020/21 report by Global Entrepreneurship Monitor discovered the highest rates of entrepreneurial intentions among women were reported in MENA, with Saudi female entrepreneurs driving this trend.
Interestingly, more talented young Saudi women are opting to study science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). As much as 38 percent of Saudi STEM graduates are women and in some fields this share is higher. According to UNESCO, 59 percent of students enrolled in computer science in Saudi Arabia are women, compared to 14 pecent and 16 percent in the US and the UK, respectively.
While women remain a minority in STEM-based professions, it would seem the balance is beginning to change. And programmes like the SEU’s WEmpower, a women's research accelerator that gives female faculty and postgraduate students a chance to learn from research experts, are helping make this possible.