Women in the driving seat

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August 27, 2018

Satyavrat Pendharkar

By Satyavrat Pendharkar*

THE reforms that Saudi Arabia has experienced so far in 2018 have laid the groundwork for the road the Kingdom will travel in years to come. While opening up entertainment will undoubtedly change the social landscape of the country, there is one new law in particular that will have a significant impact on the nation’s economy – allowing women to drive.

Being able to get into a car and go is something that many of us take for granted. The ability to drive offers us convenience, flexibility, choice, freedom, and, most importantly, opportunity. This is something that many women in Saudi Arabia are experiencing for the first time.

Lifting the ban on women’s driving marked a momentous occasion in Saudi Arabia. It also represented a vital step towards meeting the objectives laid out in the Thriving Economy pillar of Saudi Vision 2030, and to realizing a diversified economy.

Being empowered to self-drive will increase access to employment for women who previously had to rely on potentially costly hired drivers or ride-hailing services, or who did not live within easy access of job opportunities. When women work, economies thrive; according to UN Women, ‘An increase in female labor force participation—or a reduction in the gap between women’s and men’s labor force participation—results in faster economic growth.’ As of last year, only 22 percent of the workforce in Saudi Arabia comprised women, but now, with cars of their own, women can venture further afield to find meaningful employment. Money that would previously have been dedicated to either a family driver or taxi service can now be invested elsewhere.

To revert to the goals of Saudi Vision 2030, the country aims, among a number of ambitions, to increase women’s participation in the workforce to 30 per cent, and to lower the rate of overall unemployment to 7 per cent. Increasing women’s mobility will no doubt contribute to this for the above-mentioned reasons, but there is also a role for the private sector to play in ensuring that there are plenty of job opportunities available for eager women.

PepsiCo has long been a keen supporter of creating opportunities for women to not only work, but to experience a thriving career with potential to grow, both professionally and personally. To date, 15 per cent of our employees in Saudi Arabia are women, and we aim to create a workplace environment that provides even more opportunities to everyone.

As part of our commitment to support the Saudi Vision 2030 Women Empowerment Agenda, we wanted to prepare our female colleagues to hit the road when the driving ban lifted on June 24th, 2018. More than 45 women from our head office and plant in Riyadh joined us for a driving simulation, giving them the chance to learn how to control a vehicle in a safe environment.

Additionally, PepsiCo announced that it will take care of all the expenses associated with driving training and license issuance. We’re also planning to invite women to join our Saudi-wide team as drivers of sales vehicles and forklifts, opening up an entirely new range of job possibilities that were previously gender-restricted. This aligns with our commitment to being an equal opportunities employer on a global scale, as guided by the principles of our Performance with Purpose strategy. Through this, we aim – amongst other intentions – to develop and maintain an exceptional talent base, to create a workforce that reflects the diversity of our consumers and local communities, and to respect human rights throughout our value chain.

In order to ensure that we provide gainful employment to as many women as possible in Saudi Arabia, we hire women across all functions as managers, engineers and on the frontlines, where they work on a specifically developed ladies-only packaging line in our plants. Today there are dozens of women working in what is fondly called the ‘Pink Line’, with many more working throughout our offices, warehouses and facilities elsewhere in the Kingdom. We have even established a nursery in our Riyadh office to provide mothers with the support and encouragement they need to return to the workforce, with the knowledge that their children are safe and sound.

Women bring immense value to the workplace, the community, and the economy. PepsiCo understands this, which is why we are determined to ensure equal opportunities within our company, and why we are so proud of the changes that Saudi Arabia is making. By acknowledging the immense potential of women, in PepsiCo, in Saudi Arabia, and worldwide, we are setting ourselves on a path of positive growth for the benefit of not only our business or national economies, but for the benefit of global society.

This article was first published in  Saudi Gazette

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