Dubai: With each passing year, more and more Saudi women are joining the kingdom’s workforce in a range of industries that have long been dominated by men, thanks in large part to the reforms introduced under the Vision 2030 reform agenda.
The Vision 2030 reform agenda was launched in 2017 to help diversify the Saudi economy away from oil by tapping into the energy and ideas of the kingdom’s youth – particularly women who have long been underrepresented.
To this end, the Kingdom has introduced legislation that prohibits gender discrimination in wages, occupations, and working hours, and enables women to establish businesses without obtaining prior approval. It also launched leadership training programs designed to increase the number of women in management roles.
Since launching Amazon.sa in June 2020, an online store dedicated to customers in Saudi Arabia, Amazon has been on a hiring spree, recruiting Saudi youth to help facilitate and expand its local delivery logistics network.
Recently, Amazon recruiters have targeted Saudi women to run operations in the kingdom, in line with the government’s drive to localize its workforce and empower women.
The US multinational is known for its e-commerce platforms and more recently for its forays into cloud computing, digital streaming and artificial intelligence, and today it is one of the most valuable and widely recognized brands in the world.
The Amazon empire is built on the back of a streamlined global logistics network, with legions of employees working in distribution centers all over the world.
Amazon’s latest Saudi recruitment plan was launched in March of this year to create opportunities for women in collaboration with the company’s delivery service partners.
“The main challenge is the idea that these jobs are only for men,” Eman Al-Enezi, Amazon Saudi Arabia’s first delivery assistant, told Arab News. “I am proud to break this misconception and prove that women are just as capable in this field.”
Amazon says it attracted huge interest among women eager to find work in the logistics sector when it first launched its recruitment program in Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha and Dammam last year.
In response to this demand, and according to the company, this year the program provides expanded opportunities for female delivery workers in Jazan, Qassim, Makkah, Madinah and Hofuf.
Al-Enezi says the program has been very fulfilling and she hopes that more Saudi women will consider a job in logistics as a result.
“Since joining the company, I have been impressed by the efforts to ensure my safety and comfort, and I appreciate the flexibility my role provides,” she said.
“Having been with Amazon for a while now, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of the company’s female delivery female recruitment program.
“My colleagues are well settled into their new work environment and are happy to be part of a dynamic organization that puts their needs first.”
Amazon says it is proud to live up to its commitment to diversity in the workplace by creating jobs for Saudi women.
“At Amazon, we have always firmly believed that diversity opens new horizons,” Prashant Saran, COO of Amazon Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.
“This, in turn, enables us to harness the power of innovation and find new ways to better serve the evolving needs of our customers. We are actively trying to remove barriers in an industry that has traditionally been seen as male-dominated, not only in Saudi Arabia but across the world.”
“We are proud of our partnership with local businesses across the country to help level the playing field and create opportunities for talented women to build successful careers in a future-facing industry.
“This program is fully aligned with Amazon’s global commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion, while supporting the goals of the National Transformation Strategy of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030.”
According to Saran, Amazon works directly with its delivery partners to provide training geared toward helping female delivery partners balance their individual requirements, using their feedback to tailor the work to their lifestyles.
“This allows us to adapt the software to suit their needs in real time,” Saran said. “For example, we have adopted a flexible approach to working hours, and the routes involved include deliveries to public places, i.e. universities, hospitals, complexes and schools.”
Cutting-edge digital technologies and store automation have transformed the logistics industry in recent years, making careers in this sector more accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
However, it is the evolution of social attitudes towards women in the workplace and changes in the legal framework of Middle Eastern societies that have unleashed their pent-up potential.
“Here in the Middle East and North Africa region, the past few years have brought unprecedented transformational changes,” Saran said. “In Saudi Arabia today, women hold leadership positions and exercise the highest levels of power in both business and government.”
Empowering women has been high on the Saudi government’s agenda – with sincere support from the private sector. “By maintaining the momentum of these efforts, we can help accelerate the pace of change even further,” Saran said.
Indeed, while a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to recruiting and retaining women, Saran believes it is equally important to create a clear path for them to advance and reach their full potential.
“Increasing flexibility, mentoring programs and leadership training can all contribute to ensuring female employees feel valued, engaged and motivated to stay on the leadership path,” he said.
“With this goal in mind, it is important to nurture an inclusive, fair and equitable corporate culture that enables Saudi women to successfully grow their careers. It is also essential for organizations to evaluate their boards and leadership teams for diversity.”
In line with the Saudi government’s priorities, Amazon says it has launched its own comprehensive leadership training programs to help ensure gender-balanced talent.
The company says that starting with hiring and retaining leaders and nurturing leaders, efforts are being made to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace in which women feel comfortable and empowered to aspire to leadership roles.
“Seeing women succeed as leaders provides inspiration and powerful motivation for other female employees,” Saran said. “These women, in turn, serve as role models and mentors for nurturing future female leaders within organizations.”
Amazon is not alone. Many other private sector entities are prioritizing the promotion of women to leadership roles.
“What Amazon is doing is great and I expect that we will see similar initiatives coming from the private sector this year, to support the journey of Saudi national transformation,” Mona Al-Thaqafi, regional director of Serco Middle East in Saudi Arabia, told Arab News.
“As leaders in this country, it is up to us to be the change. We cannot sit back and hope that gender equality will happen. We need to be the driving force behind it.”
Like Amazon, Serco’s focus on diversity in its talent acquisition and skills improvement processes has boosted female representation among its executive team to 50%. Additionally, women represent about 30 percent of the extended leadership team.
“In 2020, we did not have female representation in senior executive roles and we decided to change this narrative,” Al-Thaqafi said.
These incentives appear to be working. A recent survey by Gartner, a US technology research and consulting firm, revealed that 2021 saw the highest percentage of women in the global supply chain workforce over the past five years.
These upward trends point to a bright future for both the Saudi e-commerce logistics industry and the working life of Saudi women.
“Amazon’s ambition to be a great place to work has reinforced our determination to create the best possible work environments for women,” Saran said.
“Our commitment to diversity, equality and inclusion resonates throughout the organization and we will continue to look for new ways to empower our female employees in Saudi Arabia and around the world.”
For Alenezi, the new recruit at Amazon, anything seems possible.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to break down barriers for Saudi women, which represents an important step towards gender equality in the industry,” she said.
“The pace of change has been fantastic, and it’s so inspiring to be a part of it all.”