The first Saudi female engineers have been employed in Saudi Arabia at General Electric (GE), in what has been hailed by campaigners as a landmark move.

The Kingdom’s Vision 2030 aims to increase the proportion of women in the workforce to 30 per cent by 2030, with an interim goal of 28 per cent by 2020 in line with the National Transformation Programme 2020. Currently, only 22 per cent of Saudi’s workforce is female.

“In Saudi Arabia, we have a well-educated and talented young population who are excited to contribute to the success of their country and to Saudi Vision 2030,” said Hisham Al Bahkali, president and CEO of GE Saudi Arabia & Bahrain. “At GE, we have always had a strong belief in Saudi talent and in particular, Saudi female talent, who can be part of the GE vision.

“We have Saudi women working as petroleum engineers, electrical engineers, lawyers, corporate audit staff and as country compliance leaders. At GEMTEC (GE Manufacturing and Technology Center) in Dammam we have female engineers who are running operational cells.

“This is not about filling quotas,” he added. “It’s about having the right people for the right jobs. We foresee the number of Saudi females in our workforce increasing over time and we will continue to invest in their training and development – to create challenging and rewarding career opportunities, as we do with all GE employees, and to create a competitive advantage for GE.”

To match the average level of female national employment in other GCC countries, the participation rate would have to be raised to 43 per cent, which equates to recruiting an additional 1.7 million women into the Saudi workforce, according to the G20 Labour Market Report from the Ministry of Labour.

The G20 report says that Saudi Arabia’s women represent a wealth of untapped potential for the economy, and many of them have yet to join the labour force, despite being highly educated and motivated.

The rule against females driving poses one obstacle; if public transport is not available, women have to pay a driver to take them to work.

But women are not only breaking ground in the engineering sector in Saudi. The recently appointed general manager of Jeddah’s new Park Inn by Radisson Hotel is also a Saudi woman. Maram Kokandi is the first female to hold the GM position in the Saudi hospitality sector.

Three financial organisations also appointed Saudi females to senior leadership roles last month: the Saudi stock exchange (Tadawul), the Samba Financial Group and the Arab National Bank.

Three years ago, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), a technology services conglomerate, opened an office in Riyadh that had an all-female workforce. Last year, TCS’s competitor Wipro did the same, starting with 20 employees. Now there are 1,000 female workers, and Wipro has set the goal of creating 20,000 jobs for Saudi women in the next 10 years. The ‘all-female’ approach is a solution to the Saudi rule that males and females cannot work together unless they are closely related.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development is also running a ‘work from home’ programme, which it estimates will create around 141,000 jobs by 2020.

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