It is no secret that the countries in the Middle East are keen to limit the dependency on oil production. However, it is a public secret that these countries are losing a major portion of their GDP due to the low inclusion of women in the workforce. A public secret as everyone knows about it, reads about it, but hardly anyone acts on it.
The Saudi Vision 2030 aims to diversify the production base and support employment plans to secure employment for millions of Saudis by the year 2030 under the Kingdom’s vision plan. Among other goals, the vision plan sets an ambitious target to integrate more women into the workforce.
Speaking with Saudi government officials at the Roundtable on Saudi Skills and Employment Market, hosted by the Saudi British Joint Business Council, I was impressed by the emphasis that has been put on culture, tradition, and family values. Yes, a lot has to and will change in Saudi Arabia in the next years, but not at the expense of family values and traditions.
Then what is the impact of culture, tradition and family values on education, HR policies and employment?
Culturally, the people in the Middle East expect to be introduced or invited to a job as this builds trust and the HR and recruitment policies should be adapted to reflect these expectations. It may look easier at first glance to copy-paste successful practices from other parts of the world and adopt them in the Middle East. However, it will take years for the people to embrace them and the success probabilities are hard to estimate. An attempt to change the culture rarely results in a success story.
As per survey conducted by Oxford Strategic Consulting, KSA needs ~250,000 world-class HR professionals, ~1m leaders, ~8m talented professionals. The participants from various organisations were asked the following question:
If every member of the HR team was of world class standard how much extra do you think it would add to your organisation’s profit/effectiveness?
~12% = $14bn pa to GCC GDP
Culture impacts the inclusion of women into the workforce. Imagine the challenges that will be faced by any organization trying to reach out to prospective female candidates. They are not likely to apply to published jobs and attend face to face interviews unless introduced to the job and the interviewer by someone they can trust. The daily commute to the office may also be a challenge. The family values are considered to be core, hence work-life balance is a must, as well as the time spent with their children.
Next comes the skills gap. There are not many available statistics on the skills the women in the Middle East have developed through formal education or experience. Saudi Vision 2030 focuses on the shift from imports to self-reliance in products and services, shift from oil to other key sectors, and shift from migrant labor to development of national human capital. All this is good as guidance and could be used to predict the skills that are likely to be on-demand in the forthcoming years. However, analyzing and bridging the skills gap will be anything but easy.
Then, how to bridge the skills gap, create jobs and integrate more women into the workforce?
IT literacy and technology are an area of special interest covered by Saudi Vision 2030. An emphasis is put on the development of digital skills and the digital economy. The impact on education, HR and recruitment practices is enormous. An app may help to collect information about the skills women already possess, compare them to the skills on demand and suggest relevant e-learning materials.
E-learning is in line with culture and tradition as it is not ‘stealing’ time away from the family and the women may progress with the pace that fits them best.
The information about the skills, interests and qualification may be used to encourage employers to create remote jobs for women. Remote working has the very same advantages as e – learning – it helps to integrate women into the workforce while respecting culture and traditions. Probably the biggest advantage is the opportunity for women to become a part of a global remote team and learn from peers. Thus, knowledge about methodologies, processes, concepts and best practices will be quickly adopted ‘’on the job’’.
Introducing women to jobs via an on-line platform is also easy. The skills possessed by women are matched to the skills on demand, and if there is a good match, women get invited to a video interview held in the comfort of their home. The job is also delivered remotely and the only prerequisites are relevant skills, a computer and an Internet connection. The payments are received safely into a bank account or a prepaid card.
The side benefit that may not be so obvious is the fact that remote jobs may be created by businesses based anywhere in the world which is an indirect investment into the local economy as the cash is spent locally. Opening an office locally and creating jobs may take years, especially if premises are to be built, the local branch is to be registered, licenses or permissions are to be obtained, etc. On the contrary, the creation of remote jobs doesn’t require upfront investment and the people in need of a job receive access to jobs much quicker.
Saudi Vision 2030 is a very ambitious plan with a great social mission and equipped with the right digital tools, it may significantly change for good the life of women not only in Saudi Arabia but also in the Middle East at large.