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Insights Being a female manager in Saudi Arabia

We conducted a short interview with Reem Seraj, British-Saudi Business Support and Vision 2030 manager in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

Tell us a bit about you 

My name is Reem Seraj, I am half English and half Saudi. My mother is a retired nurse, and my father is a retired professor of anaesthesia. I was born in England and came to Saudi Arabia when I was five years old, and where I have spent the majority of my life. I am married and I have three children. At the time, when I joined the university, there weren’t many options for Saudi women.  

My options were to either study nursing or physical therapy. I wanted to follow in my mother's footsteps but there were only two females in the entire college, so after the first year they closed the college and I started studying physical therapy. After two and a half years, I realised the course wasn’t for me, so I went to my father – who was the academician professor in the university and said, “This is not for me," and he was very supportive. I then joined the Institute of Public Administration and took a two-year course in a year and a half, and started working by the age of 20. 

Did you always want to become a manager? If so, why?

Four jobs ago, I was a headmistress of a school and I really enjoyed being the front-face with parents and being the person that could solve their problems and look after their children. That was what opened my mind on how to deal with people and manage people. In my last two jobs, I became very frustrated with managers above who weren’t leading. In my opinion, I believed that I could have done a better job with dealing with staff, people and their challenges.  That was when I first had the “light bulb” moment of, instead of waiting for other people to lead, I started to behave in the way I was expecting them to behave so I started to lead. I started to read different books and I took a course with Steven Covey about “Trust and Inspire” and it changed how I deal with people and how I see managers and their roles as leaders.  

What’s the best thing about being a Business Support and Vision 2030 Realisation Manager?

I really like working at AtkinsRéalis . We have a really good work environment because it's so multicultural and there are different nationalities and people and it’s rare to find other females in this sort of a role outside the company. It’s an opportunity to pave the way for other women behind me and demonstrate behaviour to other managers of how we can treat people and how we can grow the people within the company.  The company is literally building so many of the Vision projects, I am so proud to be part of that journey and helping young Saudis join the business, grow in their field, and learn from our experts, all the while building the future of our country. 

What is the most challenging thing about your job?

To be honest, I don’t face many challenges at AtkinsRéalis , but in the past, I didn’t have the confidence and I was riddled with fear and imposter-syndrome that I didn’t belong, and that my opinion wasn’t valid. If I would speak up, I was often told, “stay in your lane” but since taking the course I have shed all my fears and relish the challenges, because  most of these insecurities were in my head as a result of how people treated me as a woman in jobs that were typically boys clubs. 

What advice would you give to other females who want to become managers in Saudi Arabia?

Trust yourself, believe in yourself, your voice is important, your opinion is valid, and speak up. Even if your opinion is wrong, you can still learn from that. Be vulnerable, connect with people, and always be teachable.  

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