Dubai: Over time, more Saudi women have joined the kingdom’s workforce, entering a range of industries long dominated by men, thanks in large part to the Vision 2030 reform agenda introduced reforms.
Launched in 2017, the Vision 2030 Reform Agenda aims to help diversify the Saudi economy away from the oil industry by harnessing the energy and ideas of Saudi Arabia’s own youth, especially women who are chronically underrepresented.
To this end, the Kingdom has introduced legislation to prevent gender discrimination in wages, occupation and working hours, and to allow women to set up businesses without prior consent. It also launched a leadership training program aimed at increasing the number of women in management positions.
Since the June 2020 launch of Amazon.sa, an online store dedicated to Saudi Arabian customers, Amazon has been on a hiring spree, recruiting young Saudis to help boost and expand its local delivery logistics network.
More recently, Amazon recruiters have been targeting Saudi women to manage operations in the kingdom, in line with the government’s push to Saudiize the workforce and empower women.
Known for its e-commerce platform and recent forays into cloud computing, digital streaming and artificial intelligence, the American multinational is today one of the most valuable and widely recognized brands in the world.
Amazon’s empire is built on a streamlined global logistics network consisting of a large workforce spread across distribution centers around the world.
Amazon’s latest Saudi recruiting program, launched in March, aims to create opportunities for women in partnership with the company’s delivery service partners.
“The main challenge is the idea that these jobs are only for men,” Eman Al-Enezi, Amazon’s KSA’s first female Saudi deliveryman, told Arab News. “I’m proud to dispel that misconception and demonstrate that women are equally capable in this field.”
Amazon said that when it first launched a recruitment program in Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha and Dammam last year, it drew a lot of interest from women eager to find jobs in the logistics industry.
To meet this demand, this year’s program provides more opportunities for female delivery workers in Jazan, Qasim, Mecca, Medina and Hofuf, according to the company.
Al-Enezi said the program was very satisfying and hoped that more Saudi women would consider a career in logistics as a result.
“Since joining the company, I have been impressed with the efforts I have put into ensuring my safety and comfort, and I appreciate the flexibility my role offers,” she said.
“I worked at Amazon for a while and saw firsthand the positive impact of the company’s recruitment program for female delivery assistants.
“My colleagues have adjusted well to their new work environment and are excited to be part of a dynamic organization that puts their needs first.”
Amazon said it is proud to deliver on its commitment to workplace diversity by creating jobs for Saudi women.
“At Amazon, we have always believed that diversity brings new perspectives,” Prashant Saran, director of Amazon’s Middle East and North Africa operations, told Arab News.
“These in turn allow us to harness the power of innovation and find new ways to better meet the changing needs of our customers. We are actively trying to remove barriers in an industry traditionally seen as male-dominated, not only in Saudi Arabia, And on a global scale.
“We are proud to partner with local businesses across the country to help level the playing field and create opportunities for talented women to build successful careers in future-proof industries.
“This plan is fully aligned with Amazon’s global commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, while also supporting the goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 National Transformation Strategy.”
According to Saran, Amazon works directly with its delivery service partners to provide training designed to help female delivery workers balance their personal needs, using their feedback to adjust jobs to fit their lifestyles.
“This allows us to adjust the program in real time to meet their needs,” Saran said. “For example, we have a flexible approach to working hours, and the routes involved include transport to public areas, namely universities, hospitals, compounds and schools.”
Cutting-edge digital technologies and shop floor automation have transformed the logistics industry in recent years, making careers in the industry accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
However, it is the evolution of society’s attitudes towards women in the workplace and changes in the legal framework of Middle Eastern societies that have unleashed their pent-up potential.
“In the MENA region, the past few years have brought unprecedented and transformative changes,” Saran said. “In Saudi Arabia today, women hold leadership positions and wield supreme power in business and government.”
Women’s empowerment has been at the top of the Saudi government’s agenda – with the wholehearted support of the private sector. “By maintaining the momentum of these efforts, we can help further accelerate the pace of change,” Saran said.
In fact, while a culture of diversity and inclusion is critical to recruiting and retaining women, Saran believes it is just as important to create a clear path for them to develop and realize their full potential.
“Increased flexibility, mentoring programs, and leadership training all help ensure that female employees feel valued, engaged and motivated to continue on their leadership path,” he said.
“With this objective in mind, it is important to foster an inclusive, fair and equitable corporate culture and empower Saudi women to succeed in their careers. It is also important for organizations to assess the diversity of their boards and leadership teams.”
In line with Saudi government priorities, Amazon said it has launched its own inclusive leadership training program to help ensure a gender-balanced talent pipeline.
From recruiting and retention to developing leaders, the company said it is working to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace where women are comfortable and competent in leadership roles.
“Seeing women succeed as leaders provides inspiration and powerful motivation for other female employees,” Saran said. “In turn, these women serve as role models and mentors, developing future female leaders within the organization.”
Amazon is not alone. Many other private sector entities are prioritizing the promotion of women to leadership positions.
Serco Middle East KSA country director Mona Althagafi told Arab News: “Amazon has done a great job and I expect this year we will see similar initiatives from the private sector to support Saudi Arabia’s national transformation journey.”
“As leaders of this country, we have a responsibility to make change. We cannot sit idly by and hope for gender equality. We need to be the driving force behind it.”
Like Amazon, Serco’s focus on diversity in its own talent acquisition and upskilling processes has boosted the percentage of women on its executive team to 50 percent. Additionally, approximately 30 percent of the extended leadership team is represented by women.
“In 2020, we have no representation of women in senior operational roles and have decided to change that,” Althagafi said.
These incentives appear to be working. According to a recent survey by Gartner, the global supply chain workforce will have the highest percentage of women in 2021 over the past five years.
These rising trends point to a bright future for the Saudi e-commerce logistics industry and the working lives of Saudi women.
“Amazon’s ambition to be the ideal workplace reinforces our determination to create the best work environment for women,” Saran said.
“Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion resonates across the organization, and we will continue to seek new ways to empower our female workforce in Saudi Arabia and globally.”
For Amazon recruit Al-Enezi, anything is possible.
“We are delighted to have the 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 remarkable, and it’s encouraging to be involved.”