Khalid Al-Khudair: The Saudi diversity don

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Time: April 13, 2018

LONDON: One man who will be more thrilled than most at Saudi Arabia’s landmark ruling allowing women to drive is Khalid Al-Khudair.
He is an entrepreneur who has spent much of his professional life battling to get local women into the workplace — long before the Kingdom underwent its current transformation.
“The amount of jobs for women that will be created through this law is immense. From the car companies to policewomen and tow-truck drivers to mechanics — these are all industries now open to women,” said the founder of Glowork, the women’s recruitment and job support agency.
Al-Khudair, who is a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, added: “It’s great to see that the Saudi leadership has embraced the educated youth and embraces what’s good for business and society. When the 2030 Vision was announced, we were pleased to see the focus on women and that has given us a bigger push to do what we do.”
Al-Khudair founded Glowork in 2011 with the aim of getting 50,000 women into work in his home country. At the time, women’s employment participation rates in Saudi Arabia were the lowest in the world at around 9 percent, so this target figure speaks of Al-Khudair’s tenacious nature. Seven years since its formation, Glowork has directly or indirectly placed 36,000 women in the Kingdom into work.
In the past year Saudi Arabia has unveiled a string of new opportunities for women, from the right to drive and run their own businesses to the freedom to attend sports events and exercise in gyms. Spearheaded by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the new national policies are squarely aimed at bolstering Saudi Arabia’s economic and social clout and ending its reliance on oil revenues.
“A lot of things are happening in a short space of time,” said Al-Khudair. “Things are easier for us now but I see the need for getting women into employment will always continue. It’s a global issue; even if women are now in entry-level positions, they also need to be in senior positions.”
Al-Khudair has always been ambitious but now, buoyed by the will of the country’s rulers, he is more driven than ever. “Today I believe we can make women comprise 50 percent of the jobs market by 2030.”
The signs are looking good. In February, Tamadur bin Youssef Al-Ramah became deputy labor minister, a rare high-level job for a woman. Her appointment follows a spate of high-level female appointments throughout Saudi Arabia, including that of Sarah Al-Suhaimi as chairperson of the country’s stock exchange.
One of the main challenges in executing the Kingdom’s national drive for women’s employment is bridging the skills gap between education and labor, said Al-Khudair.
The entrepreneur said the impending relaxation of laws surrounding part-time and freelance work will also stimulate the employment market, particularly for women with family commitments. He also said the government was planning to introduce laws to allow younger people to start working.
“Over time, more people will get into work as they become independent and stop relying on their families. Now they will be given options to become independent and work,” said Al-Khudair, adding that 16 is an appropriate age to start working.
“Everything you do at an early age shapes your life, so it’s important they start early,” he said.
The entrepreneur, who has received many awards including the Chaillot Prize for Human Rights and the King Salman Award for Entrepreneurship, also welcomes the Kingdom’s recent move to allow women to hold their own business licenses.
“I believe that Saudi women will make great businesswomen. They can lead the field of entrepreneurship — they are very persistent and good at getting things done,” he said. “There are now a lot of incubators out there and support organizations for getting women into business. There are a lot of marketing campaigns. I also think within the national curriculum there should be chapters on entrepreneurship — for women and men.”
As well as directly placing women into jobs, Glowork hosts large careers fairs for women. The most recent event in September 2017 opened its doors to more than 40,000 women. The latest fair was held under the patronage of Princess Reema bin Bandar Al-Saud, the Kingdom’s eloquent and ambitious entrepreneur and philanthropist. As the new head of the Saudi Federation for Community Sports and the vice president for development and planning at the Saudi Arabian General Sports Authority, Princess Reema teamed up with Glowork at the event to help promote the Kingdom’s fledgling sports industry.
“There will be a huge industry for women that springs out of the new sports investments. At our career fair, companies were hiring women in sports project management but there will soon be many jobs in ushering, ticketing, media and so on,” Al-Khudair said.
He also expects the wider fitness industry to offer more employment for women now that national gymnasium laws are relaxed. “There will be new jobs for nutritionists and personal trainers,” he predicted.
Al-Khudair said the growing Saudi events industry has attracted much interest from women since the country lifted its ban on live events and cinema this year. “We work with the General Authority for Entertainment. They are already hiring a lot of Saudi women in content management and documentation. The new laws have allowed people to open events management companies. There are now hundreds of events happening a month. It’s crazy and the number of events businesses that are run by women is extensive.”
The pace of change in the Kingdom has been very fast in the past few months, said Al-Khudair, but “there is still much more to be done.”
The entrepreneur’s passion for getting women into the workplace shows no sign of abating. His personal drive for national diversity began when he saw his female family members “growing up with education but without opportunities,” he said.
“You see women who are educated and women who are able to give back, so why not? Why can’t they? I knew the opportunity was there; I knew women wanted to work and there were jobs for them, so it was a matter of closing up the gap. It just made perfect sense.
“In the past, looking at it from a social perspective, other countries looked at Saudi negatively in terms of its treatment of women. I was fed up with that picture being painted of my country to the West.”
Al-Khudair wants global companies to feel assured when investing in or setting up offices in Saudi Arabia. He explained: “When firms come into the country, they want to be sure that there is diversity and that they will able to hire who they want. A lot of global companies have diversity rules strictly embedded in their policies. By opening up our workforce, this will encourage investment and allow companies to fulfil their mandate that they have on a global level.”

This article was first published in Arab News

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