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FEATURE STORYMarch 3, 2022

Saudi Women Are Taking on New Jobs with a Twist

Saudi women have made an unprecedented progress in joining the labor market in their country due to the many new reforms that the government implemented since 2019. New opportunities arose for women to work in previously male-dominated industries.

Saudi women are a vital element for the success of Vision 2030. Several reforms have been implemented to incentivize and protect women to enter the labor market, according to the World Bank Women Business and Law report.  These have included equalized women’s right to choose a place of residency. They prohibited discrimination based on gender in employment, the dismissal of pregnant women and discrimination based on gender in accessing to credit. The decrees introduced pension equality by equalizing the retirement ages for men and women and mandating pension care credits for maternity leave.

These reforms are already benefiting 6 million Saudi women over the age of 21 and will affect women for many generations to come. Women’s employment in traditionally male dominated sectors also increased. In 2020 alone, 7,782 women entered the construction sector—where women’s employment was previously prohibited by law—and 6,662 took on new roles in manufacturing.

To showcase these new opportunities for women and the changes in jobs they are holding, we talked to three different Saudi women who took jobs in previously mostly male dominated industries:

Kareman Al-Ghamdi, a single mother in her 40s, is one of those Saudi women who decided to break barriers and become a delivery driver in Careem, one of the transportations companies.

Al-Ghamdi had other types of jobs before, more routine office jobs in the HR field. But once women in Saudi Arabia were allowed to drive, Al-Ghamdi decided to apply as a driver since she knew she could succeed at this type of job.

She said, “There are a lot of struggles that come with this type of work, but if we only think of these struggles, we will never leave our homes or do anything. I faced denial from others when they saw that I am a woman driving a car. Some people think since I am a service delivery driver that its fine for them to treat me badly. Long working hours keep me far away from my daughter, but as a mother, I am trying to achieve my goals and hit the delivery targets.”

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Al-Ghamdi said she got a lot of benefits from her job, including gaining more experience as driver, learning patience, meeting people with different backgrounds, and learning that the world is not necessarily a friendly place. “I used to be a soft person, I would tear up easily, and I dealt badly with people.  However, this new job experience   taught me about strength and firmness and how to face difficult situations.”

She believes that Saudi women today are being placed in a very strong and competitive position for jobs due to the support of the government and the Vision 2030 which is empowering them.

“Finally, my dream is to see the Saudi woman, as a role model that anyone in the world perceive and wish to be like her.” that the world looks at and says, “This is how we must be.”

Ebtihaj Bukhari, in her thirties, has spent her whole career in the science field. She is currently a Staff Scientist working at the Imaging and Characterization Core Lab at the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST). She has a bachelor’s degree in Science from King Abdulaziz University, where she specialized in microbiology, and a master’s degree from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, in Human Genetics.

After graduation from University, Bukhairi worked in a private hospital as a medical technologist, then as a senior specialist at the infectious disease lab at King Faisal Hospital and Research Center.

“Science is my passion, it helped me to explore, analyze, and solve problems! Because I do not like to have a job that is repetitive and remains the same every day, I sought out a research job. KAUST is the best place to meet and collaborate with professional scientists and experts,” she said.  

She explained that KAUST has an international and cultural diversity cohort of faculty, students, and staff members. This inspiring community is what empowered her as a Saudi woman to develop and prove herself among her peers and colleagues. KAUST supported her to compete in her job at a high level by giving her opportunities to gain more tools and skills to grow, such as sending her to participate in workshops in the UK, Germany, and the USA, where she met with global experts and learned about advanced imaging technologies.

For more than five years now, Bukhairi has been educating and supporting Saudi Research Science Institute (SRSI) students to teach them about the latest biomedical applications and inspire the next generation of Saudi scientists, especially women scientists in a field often dominated by men.

“My goal is to play a significant role within my team leading the initiative of training students and scientists from Saudi universities,” Bukhairi said, “and being a role model and influencer for all young women scientists.”

She believes that the Saudi Vision 2030 has put women’s empowerment among its top priorities. “Women are now more engaged than ever in society, government, and business sectors,” Bukhairi said as she noted that in 2019, Princess Reema was appointed as the first Saudi woman ambassador to the United States.  “I strongly believe that Saudi women will shape the future of the kingdom through their ambitious, dedicated work and myriad contributions.   

Walaa Sonbul is a single mother in her 30s, and an executive pastry chef. She earned her degree from Le Corden Blue London.

Sonbul said, “I started my career when I found my passion when I was outside Saudi Arabia.  I lived in outside the kingdom for 15 years and worked in many restaurants around the world where I had the chance to craft my skills and earn my experience through learning from world class chefs, who not only helped me enjoy what I do, but also make a living out of it.”

Being a single mother and managing a big team at the same time was one of Sonbul’s professional struggles. “Something completely new for Saudi women is to have such leadership positions and opportunities to be managers, so I am proud to say that I successfully handled that new role with full confidence, exceeding my own expectations and of course achieving many of my company objectives,” she added.

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Sonbul said, “I started my career when I found my passion when I was outside Saudi Arabia.  I lived in outside the kingdom for 15 years and worked in many restaurants around the world where I had the chance to craft my skills and earn my experience through learning from world class chefs, who not only helped me enjoy what I do, but also make a living out of it.”

Being a single mother and managing a big team at the same time was one of Sonbul’s professional struggles. “Something completely new for Saudi women is to have such leadership positions and opportunities to be managers, so I am proud to say that I successfully handled that new role with full confidence, exceeding my own expectations and of course achieving many of my company objectives,” she added.

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