Catalysing gender equity in KSA

December 11, 2023 | By Rupkatha B

Mae Al Mozaini, Founder & CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment – NUSF

“If a woman is empowered, her family is empowered. Her children are empowered, and everybody thrives in such an environment,” said Mae Al Mozaini, Founder & CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment – NUSF during an exclusive interview with IMAGES RetailME.

In a recent report, Bain & Company highlighted that the GCC region has seen unprecedented growth in the representation of women in the workforce. While Qatar at 60% and the UAE at 53% continue to lead the region in terms of women participating in the workforce, Saudi Arabia has seen the fastest pace of change. KSA reached 37% female participation in the workforce in the first quarter of 2023, exceeding the country’s Vision 2030 targets more than seven years ahead of schedule.

Vision 2030 has indeed created a robust roadmap for increased women’s participation in the workforce. From 16-17% now women account for 37% of the workforce in the Kingdom, stated Mae Al Mozaini, Founder & CEO of The Arab Institute for Women’s Empowerment – NUSF.

Interestingly, in Arabic NUSF means ‘half’ and the organisation’s tagline is ‘investing in half the population’. Through its three pillars of ‘equip’, ‘research’ and ‘connect’ NUSF seeks to ensure holistic and sustainable development of women in KSA.

The ‘equip’ pillar focuses on training and upskilling women at every level – from those who are completing degrees and looking for jobs to those keen to move up to senior roles and develop leadership skills. While the ‘research’ pillar identifies existing gaps in the Kingdom to make recommendations to eliminate those gaps. And the ‘connect’ pillar seeks to bring down social barriers that get in the way of women’s advancement in the workplace and the society.

“The Kingdom is investing towards empowering women through education. From a young age, education for women is free in the Kingdom. Not only that, when they enter college, they are given a stipend to ensure that they don’t drop out of college to look for a job to support their family. They are encouraged to complete higher education and then get a job that’s commensurate to their qualifications,” Mozaini explained.

“As a result, today Saudi women feel empowered; they are taking up jobs in diverse sectors. For example, in the transportation world a lot of businesses have been created that support women; Uber and Careem are great examples.”

Asked if she sees more and more women entrepreneurs coming out of Saudi Arabia, or they are interested in corporate jobs, Mozaini said, “Actually, I see a lot of Millennials and Gen Zs exiting corporations to create their own startups. There are several reasons for this. First, the startup ecosystem has become quite matured. Even a few years ago, there was little contribution or investment in women-led startups, which has changed a lot. From 15% its now around 45%. There is more awareness, trust and thus investments in entities built and run by women. A lot of all-male startups are inviting women to be on their leadership team to bring in a different perspective and value. So, its win-win for everybody. It’s the perfect time for women to venture into the startup scene and test the market.”

While changes are happening, roadblocks remain. In this context, Mozaini said, “No country is perfect. We acknowledge that we have some shortcomings, and we are rectifying these and improving. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is evolving on a daily basis. Vision 2030 has created the roadmap for increased women’s participation in the workforce. At every level, women are excelling – whether you’re entering the job market, whether you’re a startup founder, a female executive or a minister. The Kingdom is investing heavily to make Saudi women resilient, agile and take on the changing future, the glimpses of which are already apparent. If anything, it’s an exciting time to be a Saudi woman.”

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