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Insights Saudi Arabia's transformation: what does it mean for women in the workplace?

For as long as most people will remember, Saudi Arabia has been known for its gender imbalance in the workforce. In 2018, as few as 19.7% of women with Saudi citizenship were in employment or were actively looking to join the working world, according to The Brookings Institution.

Now with the socio-economic transformation underway, empowered by Vision 2030 which aims to enhance the quality of life and raise citizens’ aspirations, more females are participating in the workforce and Brookings are defining this movement as a “spectacular surge”.

silhouettes of people holding the Saudi Arabia flag

How is this defining the Kingdom’s workforce?

It was His Royal Highness Prince Mohammad bin Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, also known as MBS, who was eager to encourage more women to seek employment that spurred these policy changes, and it was recognised as a triumph when the figures revealed that 22.1% of Saudi females from the age of 15 were active in the workforce by the following year.

Saudi Arabia built its wealth by tapping into its abundant oil reserves. However, as the world prepares for a greener future, MBS has started to explore new avenues to boost the Kingdom’s economy. The empowerment of Saudi Arabian women is at the heart of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program, with far-reaching social and economic goals including increasing women’s economic participation rate from 17% to 25% this year. This will of course lead to far more women joining the workforce to support the vision.

Today, seeing men and women working alongside each other has played a huge part in organisations hiring and promoting talent based on qualifications and skills, not gender. As a result, more Saudi women are now working in engineering, construction, retail, hospitality, and military sectors and, more importantly, taking on managerial positions.

What does this mean for the future of the AtkinsRéalis Group, including Atkins and Faithful+Gould in Saudi Arabia?

Increasing the participation of females in the workforce has delivered a knock-on effect and fuelled the country’s transformation that was already gaining momentum. This is providing more opportunities for the younger generation, especially women, encouraging them to play a more significant role in the business world.

AtkinsRéalis Lavalin has been able to leverage this shifting workforce in a number of ways. Since women are now able to drive, we have seen an increased number of female employees driving to work and they have embraced the new freedom and flexibility this has offered them to pursue their chosen careers. Over the last two years, we have seen an increase in job applications from Saudi females of 23%. Saudi female graduates are increasingly looking to the private sector for employment and long-term career opportunities.

So, what does the transformation mean for AtkinsRéalis ’s core markets and what are we doing to ensure we have an inclusive and equitable workplace for Saudi females?

“There used to be a separation in workplace between men and women. This has changed over the last 10 years, especially for big companies and organizations. Not only this, but also in terms of deployment, companies are now basing hiring on qualification and skills, not gender.” – Razan Alfnissan, Management Accountant

“The transformation has had an impact on AtkinsRéalis 's core markets; the business network has diversified in the workplace and created more opportunities for women. It has

ignited female entrepreneurship and innovation within Saudi Arabia, which aligns with our company’s commitment to foster an inclusive culture that promotes gender equality and supports women’s professional development, skills and knowledge throughout their career.” – Maram Alsaran, HR Advisor

How has Covid-19 impacted the progress?

The pandemic was a difficult time for everyone. Despite the challenges - past, present and future - according to KPMG, 47% of female leaders in Saudi are hopeful that Covid-19 won’t have derailed the progress the nation was making on the diversity and inclusion front.

KPMG’s Female Leaders Outlook 2020 spoke to women in leadership roles around the world, including those in Saudi Arabia. The survey revealed that 73% of Saudi female leaders believe their successors are likely to be female. This paints a very promising picture for the future of Saudi Arabia and an even more promising one when compared to the 53% of females internationally who believe it’s likely they’ll be succeeded by another female.

Why equality, diversity and inclusion matter to us

At AtkinsRéalis , we make sure that everyone has an equal voice. We believe in respecting and empowering our people and creating an environment where everyone is encouraged to contribute. Ensuring that everyone feels encouraged to share their ideas isn't just the right thing to do, we believe it drives innovation and improvement. This is why we're always actively looking to diversify our talent pools.

Learn more about equality, diversity and inclusion at AtkinsRéalis and how we’re creating a culture we can be proud of.