Transforming Saudi Arabia: Leaving a Mark for My Daughters

“Sweetie, have you finished your homework?” I asked my eight-year-old daughter.

“Non, maman. Il était dificile” (‘No mom, it was hard’) she answers in French, her academic language. I had just returned from work; a nine to five demanding job that I was lucky to get even before the first formal interview. In fact, I was the only woman considered for such post, and my boss, an untraditional Saudi –and a father of four- who appreciates women managing family and career, is a wonderful man.

Although atypical here in Saudi Arabia, the trend is on the rise. Recently, employers and recruiters are acknowledging the importance (or at least the value) of having females in their team. They are also recognizing the benefits of gender diversity. In 2001, the Saudi banking industry, supported by the very powerful central bank began a gradual utilization of female talents. This was evident when one of the Kingdom’s most conservatively-cultured banks began to hire females in “unconventional” posts. I was one of the three first-time, highly paid women hired.

Our options? Economic research, fast track middle management, and head of women retail division. I was chosen for the second track. Today, that same bank employs at least 100 women in its landmark headquarters, including its head of Treasury finance is a female CPA holder, a high profile Columbia M&A specialist and many others.

In my early days, I vividly recall the strong resistance by many conservative staff members to our presence. In fact, some wouldn’t even share an elevator ride! In addition to banking, women today work in a variety of sectors such as retail, insurance, advertising and PR. Historically, the only two women employing sectors were education and medicine with very few posts in various government ministries and complete isolation from their male counterparts. But, since 1970, these sectors formed the founding blocks of employment for women in Saudi Arabia. We have a long way since then, thanks to the vision of the current ruler King Abdullah and the advancement of Saudi women in many fields which makes world headlines.

So how do I manage a career and my family? Unlike for many of my western counterparts, in many emerging markets, access to in home childcare and domestic help is available and more affordable. I have a nanny who helps my husband and I look after our three daughters (Ages 8, 6 & 2).We also rely on a tutor to help with homework and conversational skills. There is very little time for leisure and entertainment other than week-end: Thursdays and Fridays in Saudi Arabia. I work very hard and am involved in many endeavors as such I admit that some quality time with the children is often compromised for career success and future planning.

Previously, only an option for many rich women in my country – a category I do not fall in – work is now becoming more and more of an option for younger women. In 2008, I took a post as a lecturer on finance at a prestigious women’s college in the coastal city of Jeddah. My students varied in backgrounds, races and social strata. By the time I left teaching in 2011, many of my former students joined the workforce  as co-ops and interns. The gratitude they showed and the lessons they learned from early saving to how to have career path and the motivation to stay the course appear to have influenced their lives positively, something for which I am very content.

“I always keep in my mind that how I live my life today will leave a long lasting mark in my daughters’ lives and the lives of women and men in generations to come.”

So, at the end of the day, it’s really a choice. But personally, I always keep in my mind that how I live my life today will leave a long lasting mark in my daughters’ lives and the lives of women and men in generations to come.

You can read more about Reem Asaad here and follow her on Twitter @reem_asaad.

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