[fa icon="calendar'] Jan 29, 2018 @ 10:50 AM / by Michael Joyce

View of a McDonalds with separate lines for men and women in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Photo taken by AIRINC cost-of-living surveyor Omar Tarabishi.

Rapid Modernization in Saudi Arabia and the Impact on Female Expatriates

A move to Saudi Arabia has long been considered challenging for many female expatriates, deterred by the Kingdom’s hard line restriction of women’s rights.But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s rapid modernizations - seen in the ultra-conservative country as welcome and unwarranted in equal measures - could change perceptions.

The sweeping reforms include reducing the powers of the religious police and extending women’s rights. In August 2017 the guardianship system, which insisted women had male guardians to make decisions on their behalf, was loosened. And from June this year, women will be able to hold driving licenses and drive themselves. These moves coincide with Belgium appointing Dominique Mineur as the world’s first female ambassador to Saudi Arabia, a position she will take up this summer.

What are the implications for organizations with operations throughout the Middle East?

The Western expatriate workforce in Saudi Arabia has previously been influenced by a few major factors, particularly the oil industry’s predominantly male demographic. With the oil and gas industry facing fiscal uncertainty, the Crown Prince sees less reliance on oil as a critical factor in the future growth of the Saudi economy. He is keen to show that Saudi Arabia is open for business with his 2030 vision of a new and prosperous land that is enhanced by a growing female workforce. Saudi leaders hope that these new policies will diversify the economy by increasing women’s participation in the workplace.

Having traveled extensively in the region and across most major Saudi cities, I always found its people to be warmly welcoming and well humored. But conducting business in a country where women were not allowed to participate in meetings without permission and were segregated behind screens in restaurants proved difficult. For example, even if my female colleagues received permission from the host to attend a meeting, I had to obtain the consent of the other male attendees.

Saudi Arabia’s Uncertain Progress

With these recent changes, new doors of economic progress could open. Are organizations outside of the oil and gas industry more likely to invest in the country with this expansion of women’s rights, and if so how far will these new policies go and how will it impact Saudi's place in the global economy?

Will this new climate encourage an increasing number of multi-national companies to view Saudi Arabia as a key partner in the Middle East? And might more women consider Dammam, Jeddah, or Riyadh as attractive expatriate destinations to rival Doha, Dubai, and Oman?

With this climate of change in Saudi Arabia, AIRINC will continue to scrutinize our market basket, host location usage, rent and utility costs, and hardship assessments to ensure that we are accurately capturing the reality that expatriates are facing on-site. AIRINC surveys Saudi Arabia twice per year and our next cost-of-living surveys will be conducted in February 2018. We look forward to updating you again soon.

What do you think?

We’d love to hear from you, our readers. Please add your thoughts in the comments field below. We look forward to reading your perspectives from around our world of Global Mobility!

Topics: Insights and Experience, Saudi Arabia