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    Diversity in the workforce is key for Saudi businesses, conference hears

    Published On: 1 March 2020

    Under its Vision 2030 banner, Saudi Arabia is making key changes to many aspects of life in the country. These changes have also given women a larger role in Saudi’s economy, according to leading industry figures.

    “Under Vision 2030 a lot of fields have been opened, which were [previously] off limits for females,” Ghada Al Jarbou, General Manager of Global Liquidity and Cash Management at Saudi British Bank said at the Asia House Middle East Trade Dialogue, held in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

    Women now have the opportunity to work in tourism and entertainment and as flight attendants and taxi drivers, she said.

    As more women are entering the workforce, Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, CEO of Novo cinemas, said, “companies are really starting to become aware of the contribution that having a more balanced workforce can enable in terms of growth opportunity and revenue.”

    It’s not about “men versus women” but about “creating a level playing field of diversity,” she added.

    Although Saudi Arabia is making significant gains when it comes to women employment targets, it still falls short of more mature economies, particularly in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics sectors, said Al Jarbou.

    Dr Halid Al-Daher, Managing Director of Accenture Saudi Arabia, added that this has significant effects on the industry and its innovations. “We also see that, unfortunately, when you don’t have women participation in technology, all this new technology (artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics) will also have some unconscious bias.”

    This is one of the reasons, he argues, that the inclusion of women in the workplace is vital. He also adds that a more diverse work environment makes employees more “effective and efficient”.

    Stanford-Kristiansen agreed with Al-Daher adding that a diverse customer base requires a diverse workforce to “be able to serve those customers and give them the right type of experience”. Women may have a better understanding of the behavioural patterns and spending patterns of other women, while men may better understand men’s consumer needs, she said.

    Al-Daher also highlighted the importance of women employment targets being reflected in upper management. More than 36 per cent of new leaders coming into Accenture were female this year, he said.

    One of the key initiatives companies can take to ensure that more women take part in the workforce is mentoring, according to Stanford-Kristiansen.

    “I think mentorship is very important for women,” she said, adding that “sometimes we lack confidence, we doubt ourselves. Yet we do have the ability but sometimes it needs somebody else to encourage us and to support us to bring out the best in us.”

    Along the same lines, Al-Daher said: “I think it is a key part of leadership and a key part of growth that we identify the opportunities for mentorship. The opportunities are always there. The key success factor is then how do we share that.”

    Although the private sector can play a role, Al Jarbou said: “It has to be a coordinated effort between the government, the businesses and the non-profits to make sure that all of these changes take place correctly and in a more interlinked manner.”

    In order to contribute to this, Al Jarbou is part of a taskforce under the B20, which will make recommendations regarding the implementation of diversity at the G20 with a focus on “gender disparities around employment and professional advancement”.

    “We are looking to come up with very specific objective, achievable and measurable actions, in order to make sure that there is an impact,” she said.

    “There is great value in having an environment that is diverse,” Al-Daher said highlighting the importance of the issue being discussed at this year’s G20 summit, adding that “It is important for Saudi Arabia, it is important for Accenture, it is important for organisations.”

    WATCH the full discussion at Asia House TV