Although Aramco was a more open and multicultural environment than other companies in Saudi Arabia when it was established, the path towards empowering women within the institution was not easy!
Najat al-Husseini, the first Saudi woman to work at Aramco, had to get special permission from the late King Faisal bin Abdulaziz to get the job, as “there were no laws for the employment of Saudi women at that time, but she proved herself through discipline and professionalism at work, especially as she was the only Saudi woman among American female colleagues working in the secretarial and health sectors,” as her brother Sadad al-Husseini told Al Arabiya.net.
After that, Naela Moussalli was the first Saudi female engineer in the company; she studied petroleum engineering and was appointed in 1980, 47 years after Aramco was founded.
Fatima Hassan al-Awami, who also studied petroleum engineering, was the second to join after Moussalli, while Amal Baqir al-Awami, who specialized in chemistry, became the third. These three women all shared incredible determination, backed by a family environment that was supportive of their ambition, and an education they worked hard for overseas.
There are many Saudi women who studied in the Kingdom and strived to prove themselves and defy old stereotypes.
One of these was Amira al-Mustafa, who majored in physics and obtained a bachelor’s degree from King Abdulaziz University. According to a report on her experience published by Al-Qafilah magazine, she then joined Aramco as a geophysicist in the Exploration and Operations Department and worked on analyzing and processing information and maps.
Al-Husseini, Moussalli, al-Awami, al-Mustafa…these are Saudi role models whose life path is deserving of a documentary, which would provide great insight into social and cultural development in Saudi Arabia. While their stories are personal, they are also the story of the transformation that took place across several generations, a biography of Saudi women who chose a less conventional path than being housewives or mothers, but rather changed their destiny, and helped open up the future of other women who were influenced by their inspiring experiences.
One noteworthy clarification is that there were no foreign female engineers at Aramco in the beginning either, and the Saudi female engineers could be counted on one hand! And while there are accounts of a foreign female engineer in the early days, an American, she came to Aramco not in the capacity of an employee, but as the wife of an employee, as those who know the history of the company recount.
After 2003 and the relative acceptance of women in the company’s various departments, Aramco decided to hire Saudi female engineers, but they were so rare that the company had to propose attractive job offers in order to attract Saudi female engineering talent.
As time progressed and more developments took place within society, discussions took place within Aramco leading to a program for Saudi girls to study petroleum engineering in the US, after which they would return to work in the company, which helped increase the percentage of female engineers and enhance their expertise.
This evolution of Saudi women within the company is an example of self-determination, ambition, passion for science and work. These women have shown their worth beyond the shadow of a doubt, proving that women are equally as capable as men, and that if artificial obstacles are removed from them, they can be engineers, managers and leaders exhibiting the highest levels of professionalism and competence. These are the opportunities that Vision 2030 flung open the doors to for Saudi women, to lift the unnecessary burdens that have plagued them for years.
This article was originally published in, and translated from, Saudi newspaper al-Riyadh.