The number of Saudi women working in the country’s private sector has more than doubled over the past four years.

The Ministry of Labour and Social Development published figures last week showing female participation in the workforce had increased from 215,000 in 2012 to 496,000 in 2016, a growth rate of 130 per cent.

It added that the proportion of women working in the private sector had increased from 12 per cent in 2011 to 30 per cent in 2017.

Riyadh and Makkah had the highest number of employment opportunities for women, but Jazan in the south had the lowest, with only 5,800 women working in the region.

In 2015, it was reported that there were more women studying in universities in Saudi than men: 551,000 to 513,000. But it is taking time for that kind of gender balance to translate to the workforce.

A recent study showed Saudi employers are increasingly realising the benefits of investing in an inclusive culture and workforce, especially when it comes to putting women in leadership positions. It also suggested that more legislation is needed to ban certain gender-biased questions from interviews - something more akin to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) global standards.

“The childcare element is very important too - either subsidising it or getting companies to invest more in their own childcare,” said Khalid Alkhudair, founder and CEO of Glowork, joint publisher of the study.

The kingdom has steadily been making changes to laws and regulations considered obstructive to women working in recent times. In May, a royal decree was issued by King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud with the aim of relaxing restrictions on women’s ability to work and study.

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