Time: March 28, 2018
NEW YORK: They may have been outnumbered by men but women executives were not sitting on the sidelines of this year’s Saudi-US CEO Forum, which gathered members of the business elite under one roof in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday.
Mounira Jamjoom, CEO of Emkan Education, a consultancy, was one of about two dozen women among the 200 business chiefs assembled in Gotham Hall.
“I’m a woman in business so it’s important to mingle with the men and the top companies in the US and Saudi Arabia for the visibility of what we do,” Jamjoom told Arab News. “I’m also a female entrepreneur and I understand the hurdles female entrepreneurs face in Saudi Arabia.”
This year’s forum comes as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman implements his Vision 2030 reform agenda, which aims to raise the participation of women in the Saudi workforce from 22 percent now to 30 percent by 2030.
Women make up 56 percent of Saudi university graduates, officials say. About 205,000 female students receive grants to study abroad each year and women are bagging an increasing number of jobs in private, public and government institutions.
The forum featured women such as Adena Friedman, CEO and president of NASDAQ, one of the exchanges vying to host the sell-off of oil giant Saudi Aramco, expected in the next couple of years.
Lubna Olayan, a trailblazing Saudi entrepreneur and deputy chairperson and chief executive of Olayan Financing Company, kick-started proceedings by tackling the obstacles facing a fast-changing nation.
“Saudi Arabia is a G-20 country that is undergoing massive reforms, both economic and social,” Olayan told the crowd, citing the role of women as one of the issues being addressed in an evolving economic landscape.
This year’s forum was titled “An Era of Transformation: from Vision to Implementation.” Panelists were set to take part in an afternoon session called “Saudi Women Scale New Heights.”
For Jamjoom, a graduate of New York’s Columbia University, reforms are changing the landscape, but the Kingdom is playing catch-up even with some of its Gulf neighbors when it comes to women’s rights.
“It is getting better but we still have a long way to go,” added Jamjoom.
“For a long time, women were executors of national plans rather than leaders. More and more, you’re seeing women in leadership positions. By hiring more women, the government can pave the way for seeing more jobs in the private sector and in semi-government institutions.”
Deem AlHajjaj, a consultant on the National Transformation Program of the Vision 2030 reform agenda, was on-hand to explain how business is changing in Saudi Arabia through female empowerment drives and other initiatives.
She traveled from Riyadh to take part in the forum, and offered advice to young ambitious women in the Kingdom who want to get ahead — saying that jobseekers must sell themselves in a competitive market.
“You need hard work, of course, a good education and a passion to help the country achieve this vision,” AlHajjaj said.
“It can take a lot of effort and dedication, but everything is possible. The country is transforming. You go away for a year and come back and everything is different. Never lose hope in your ability to help the country.”
Jamjoom said women need to be self-starters and cannot sit on the sidelines.
“Success really depends on the woman having the persistence and perseverance to continue,” Jamjoom told Arab News.
“They can seek support from other women who’ve made it, and raise their hand and ask for support from men, which is something they didn’t do years ago because of segregation, but it’s necessary because most seniors in government and the private sector are men.”
The forum was the second installment in a series of annual events that began in Riyadh last May during US President Donald Trump’s first overseas visit since he entered the White House. That event led to deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars.
It was held under the domed roof of the grand, elliptical banking room of what was once the Greenwich Savings Bank building, a venerable 1920s edifice of limestone, sandstone and steel at 1356 Broadway.
Behind the scenes, the crown prince was understood to be talking with business heavyweights such as Jamie Dimon, CEO of JPMorgan, and others.