What needs to be done for gender equality in KSA?
Why are women a tiny minority in most workplaces in Saudi Arabia? Why are they missing from key positions? What is stopping them from climbing the corporate ladder in the kingdom?
Tal Hisham Nazer, CEO, BUPA Arabia, looks at the gender questions very closely:
Q: What efforts need to be taken to bring gender parity in the boardroom?
A: In KSA, when you look at the statistics in relation to this, you have equal number of female as well as male college graduates. However, when you look at the percentage of female participation at the workforce or the unemployment rate for women in KSA, there is a real mismatch. With the changing times and where both partners in a household need to earn incomes and find good jobs, we need to make sure that the work environment is suitable for women as well.
To me, it’s really about getting the basics right: Do you have a comfortable environment at the workplace? Are you protecting your female employees? Are you giving equal pay? Are you giving equal opportunities for growth and leadership? So, basically, today in KSA, we are at the stage where we just have to make sure that we get our fundamentals right and the rest will follow.
In BUPA, we have roughly about 2000 employees and 40 per cent of our staff are Saudi women. We have also been ranked as the number one work environment for women in KSA for the last 3 years, so I think that is something quite positive.
Q: Why are women still excluded from senior positions? Why have they not reached their full potential in the country?
A: Well, I am not aware of any regulation that does not allow women to climb the corporate ladder. We have recently seen a lot of big announcements being made, with regards to Saudi women being chosen as CEOs, so we are definitely moving in the right track. But we are starting from a place where women have not had any big roles in the last ten years and so to get into executive positions is going to take time.
There are some entities that have taken risks on the younger generation, which is a very good thing. I say it is a risk because it is not an easy thing to do—it’s not like the market is full of high-powered, well-educated women that you can pick and choose from. There are not a lot of them.
Also, I don’t personally like to differentiate between men and women. It is all about top talent and delivery, not about gender. So, to me, it’s what kind of experience and quality you can bring to the table, not the gender.
Q: Do you think a change in mindset is required?
A: There has to be a change in the mindset, of course. I think it has to be across the country, it has to be from the Minister of Labour in relation to the regulations, from the CEOs and from basically anyone involved in job creation.
Q: Would exclusivity laws and reforms aid in supporting women in the workplace?
A: Yes, very much. There have been a lot of reforms in KSA in the past few years and there needs to be a lot more. For example, you would not have seen women working in supermarkets or retail stores in KSA couple of years ago and I believe laws have been changed and created to allow that and it has created more than half a billion jobs for females. So we need to consider the initiatives or activities that need to be done, as well as the incentives that need to be created, for the private sector to hire more Saudi women. So I think we are on the right track, but a lot more has to happen in relation to that.