Lucky to be part of this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ change
With the recent government announcements and rising importance of women in the Saudi Arabian economy, Abdul Latif Jameel Opening Doors speaks to Alanoud Alhejailan, Chief Engagement Officer, Abdul Latif Jameel Insurance, about the changes in Saudi Arabian society, her working role and the future for women in the workforce in Saudi Arabia.
You’ve previously studied and worked in the UK and the United States. What were the biggest differences you noticed when you returned to Saudi Arabia to work?
I did my legal training in London. The UK has a very old and well-established legal system, which is based on precedent. It was therefore fairly easy to locate all the different sources of law, whether through books or online resources. The legal system in Saudi Arabia is considered quite new and ever-changing, which makes it a much more challenging environment to work in, and forces you to be more resourceful.
However, this also means that there are more opportunities available in Saudi Arabia, since we are still in the phase of “creation” and “innovation”. We have a lot to learn, but also a lot to create. New laws are enacted, new systems and regulations are put into place, cities are being built and expanded, the opportunities are endless, and we are lucky to be part of this ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ change.
How have you seen the role of women in Saudi Arabia develop in the past decade?
I lived abroad for 11 years. When I returned, I was stunned by the number of highly educated and highly qualified women. Most young women nowadays are quite ambitious and very interested in pursuing a career. The government has also opened many doors for women and encouraged this development. In short, it is the right time to be a woman in Saudi Arabia.
How excited are you by the country’s commitment to maximising female potential, as outlined in Vision 2030?
I think the government initiatives are great, and the changes that have already taken place are quite promising. I would like to see more women in high governmental positions, such as ambassadorial posts for example, because I believe there are many highly capable Saudi women who can play a significant role in our country’s development.
In a country with such a youthful population, are you seeing a change in attitude and belief among Saudi Arabia’s young women?
Women of the younger generation believe that anything is possible. They are strong, ambitious, and motivated. However, this is not totally new. Women in older generations have already accomplished a lot in the fields of biotechnology, physics, and business, among others. I believe the younger generation will continue to be as accomplished, if not more so, due to the fact that more support is available to them.
Are women themselves eager to play more of a public role in Saudi society, and in the economy?
Yes, I believe so, and this has already become apparent in traditional and social media. Women are breaking away from traditional norms where one was shielded from society, and have become more comfortable in taking on public roles.
What will be the big benefits for Saudi Arabia as the Government works towards its female-related Vision 2030 goals over the next decade?
Encouraging females to enter the workforce will empower women and boost the economy. Encouraging more independence will breed a new generation of strong, self-reliant and capable women. This will reduce the pressure on male breadwinners and be especially beneficial for single or widowed mothers.
As a woman, what is it like to work at Abdul Latif Jameel? How is the Government’s modern approach reflected in the working environment and the approach to women at Abdul Latif Jameel?
Abdul Latif Jameel has traditionally been a male-dominated industry because of the nature of its core business. Nonetheless, Abdul Latif Jameel has still managed to be a pioneer in employing, training and creating jobs for women. Furthermore, after having branched into new sectors, Abdul Latif Jameel has made it a priority to employ more women at all levels, including senior positions. This, coupled with the government’s 2030 vision for females in the workplace, has created a supportive environment for female employees.
Does the company represent a model for other Saudi Arabian businesses to follow?
It certainly does. As a SAMA regulated entity, our aim at Abdul Latif Jameel Insurance is to be very compliant by being ethical and transparent in everything we do. Rather than being a “transactional” broker, we would like to be perceived as consultants and advisors that encourage entrepreneurship, growth and innovation. We believe in providing our clients with the highest quality of service and do not shy away from giving advice on non-traditional risks. We also seek to create awareness in the market by engaging with all the relevant stakeholders.
Do you see more women getting involved at Abdul Latif Jameel Insurance, and what are their prospects for career progression within the organisation?
Abdul Latif Jameel Insurance is very keen on hiring Saudi women at different levels in the organization. We are currently seeking women in different positions, from secretarial posts to compliance and marketing, for example.
Do you intend to apply for a driving licence next year, following the Government’s recent announcement with regard to female drivers?
I currently have a UK and Emirati driver’s license, and have driven in the US, the UK, and the UAE. So I am definitely planning on applying for a Saudi license as well. I believe the choice of being able to drive is crucial for women as it will empower them, and make them less reliant.