Role of Saudi women entrepreneurs ‘changing rapidly’

Importance to create job opportunities for women in sectors previously inaccessible to them

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In light of recent developments in the drive to increase women’s employment and the buzz around a recent survey that claimed more Saudi men prefer working wives, it is important that job opportunities for women are created in sectors previously inaccessible to them.

A World Economic Forum report in 2012 named Saudi Arabia among four countries that have made key investments in women’s education but failed to facilitate women’s participation in the workforce. Glowork is a social enterprise that seeks to help unemployed women, including those who prefer to work from home, find jobs in various sectors.

Glowork’s founder and CEO Khalid Alkhudair believes training and employing women in different sectors can reverse the waste of human capital in the Kingdom.

“The whole concept of women working is still new to people. It is important to know that we are not changing part of religion or tradition. The reluctance to having women come out in the public sphere is embedded in our culture. It was something that was wrong and is now being fixed in a systematic way,” Alkhudair said.

While working with the government on policies, Alkhudair said Glowork approached companies that only employed men and convinced them to hire women in many of their departments.

Glowork operates as a private-public partner with the Saudi Ministry of Labor and works on helping 1.6 unemployed women registered in the ministry’s database find jobs. For every candidate the company helps find a job, they earn a commission. If the candidate remains at the job for more than a year, it earns a further commission.

“This helps the government save money; it helps encourage employers to open opportunities for women since we do the filtering, screening, selecting and mentoring for a very minimal fee,” Alkhudair said.

Saudi Arabia’s highly educated and untapped human resource cost the economy approximately $1.5 billion last year. “This is where Glowork comes in. Glowork will soon provide training centers for women to learn and modify their skills in sectors new and unfamiliar to them. Our in-house team will focus on teaching marketing, human resources, negotiations, strategy development, customer service and retail skills.”

Several Saudi women who are now working in the sales sector said having a job has opened many doors for them. “We see this as empowerment beyond just financial liberation. We find out about more rights we can fight for and are, for the first time, able to stand united to end violence against women in matters of custody, marriage, work and guardianship laws,” Sameera Ali, a 28-year-old Saudi saleswoman, told Saudi Gazette.

“I think the Saudi Ministry of Labor is doing great and opening up to the idea of women working in different fields and in senior positions and not only in entry level positions. Tourism is going to be big for women very soon and they should be allowed to work in different companies where they can even work as travel agents. Soon, many fields will open up for women,” she said.

A public relations representative in Jeddah said social change is imperative and companies that help recruit women for jobs are helping them achieve beyond the ordinary.

“We honestly did not know we could work in various sectors. At the most you could be a teacher or a doctor. Now, I sell makeup, my friends are luxury lifestyle managers — we do a lot more than the usual,” Ameerah Hasan told Saudi Gazette.

Alkhudair said there will be more opportunities in the retail, food and beverage industries and the tourism and media sectors.

“It will take a little time for people to accept change. It has to be done in a manner where everyone understands the value of change. Once people start seeing the extra income coming into the household, even if the women are working from home, they will realize the importance of that income. This extra source of income can help couples build a house and raise a family together. This changes the state of the whole economy,” he explained.

Hamid Akmal, a cashier in Jeddah, said he only makes ends meet because of his wife’s financial contribution. “She teaches at a local school and because of her we get discounts for our children’s education. I wouldn’t have been able to afford it to be honest. I am very grateful; because of her, we are able to give our children a quality education and life,” he said.

This article was first published in Saudi Gazette

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