Khalid is enhancing the role of women in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf by carving out new professional work opportunities for women and leading the way towards the integration of Saudi women into the workforce.
In a society that has both traditions and laws that make it nearly impossible for most women to find a job, Khalid is working to change the role and perception of women through economic empowerment. To achieve an objective of having women represent 50% of the Saudi workforce, Khalid is working across three key areas:
First, he is working with the Saudi Ministry of Labor to change policies that make it difficult for companies to hire women, proposing and passing new laws mandating the hiring of women in several sectors including retail and manufacturing. Second, he is building a platform that fills the gap between job seeking females and companies that are ready to hire women. Khalid’s organization, Glowork, has worked with unemployment records to build a database of 1.2 million unemployed women. In his first year, he has created over 6,000 vacancies for women by establishing partnerships with both Saudi and International Corporations. Third, he is launching a series of marketing campaigns that encourage both Saudi men and women to think differently about the role of women in the workplace.
As the first job portal for women in Saudi Arabia, Khalid’s initiative is paving the way for women’s employment to vastly increase in the Gulf region while at the same time promoting gender diversity and inclusion within the workplace. He is not only giving women an entry point to access the work place, he is also promoting equality by bringing together a new generation of strong and independent Saudi women who are ready to break free from traditional stereotypes.
For many Saudi women, full participation in the workforce remains a much coveted goal yet to be fulfilled. Despite efforts to increase the participation rate of working women, long entrenched cultural norms and legal restrictions, especially the gender segregation law, are significant barriers to attain this goal. With increased access to modern education, more than 60 percent of university students are women. Princess Nora University, the first women’s university in Saudi Arabia and the largest women’s university in the world, has had more than 50,000 students graduate in the past decade.
According to a 2010 study by Booz & Company, a global management consulting firm, less than 15 percent of the labor market in Saudi is made up of women. Additionally, 60 percent of women who have a Ph.D. are unemployed in Saudi Arabia. The unemployed population in Saudi Arabia is estimated to be 1.6 million. Women constitute 1.2 million of the unemployed population, a huge majority. The majority of unemployed women are highly educated and qualified to enter the job market when an opportunity arises; in fact, 78% of them are university graduates. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia’s education budget has more than tripled since 2000. In 2011, 46 percent of the national budget ($40 billion) was dedicated to education and training.
Even though there is no lack in Saudi women’s qualifications to enter the job market and despite the huge investment in women’s education, the employability of women still lags behind as one of the lowest rates in the Arab region due to legal, logistical, and cultural restrictions that limit the type and place of work available to them. Saudi laws and regulations, including the segregation law stipulate that different genders should be separated at the work place. Accordingly, many businesses are discouraged by the high cost of maintaining separate premises for both genders and find it economically ineffective. These laws also deem a variety of professional occupations unsuitable for women and limit women’s ability to actively interact and search for jobs because of restrictions on driving and on discussion without male accompaniment. Most companies have outdated websites, making it hard for women to search online for new positions. As a result, women mainly work in the health sector or as teachers and access to these jobs is usually available only by recommendations done as personal favors, rather than on a merit-based approach and a public announcement of vacancies.
Even if a woman can access one of these few job opportunities, she will still face additional cultural barriers discouraging her from working outside of the home, especially considering that some careers areconsidered aslow standard and inappropriate for a Saudi woman to occupy. Saudi women have been more than ready to actively participate in the work force, but have had limited access to it. There is a need for a solution that can strike a balance between current cultural and traditional considerations that discourage them from working outside the home and between fulfilling their potential and developing their professional careers. Beyond the missed opportunities for the women, there is enormous societal cost in maintaining the status quo. The government pays unemployment benefits to women (and men), which have reached a high of $1 billion in 2011. In 2012, the government increased the quota on private businesses to employ Saudi nationals, meaning they will have to employ women to fill the quota. Companiesare ready and eager to comply, butdon’t know how to reach women effectively.
In order tocreate new opportunities for Saudi women in the work force, while changing gender roles and perceptions of women both towards themselves and by society through economic empowerment, Khalid set up a social business venture called Glowork. According to Saudi law, civil society organizations must have a member of the royal family as its founder and main decision maker. Thus, to ensure full autonomy over his initiative, Khalid set up his non-profit model with a front of a social business to realize his vision of reform in the country. Also, presenting himself using international-like branding allowed him to get in to the doors of the Ministry of Labor, who are more receptive to ideas that appear to be from abroad. Khalid’s model serves as a precedent in the country for a business that places a social cause as its priority. He provides all services at no cost to female job seekers and CSOs; however, private companies pay a small fee to join the network. Khalid plans to re-invest all profits back in to the company to maintain its sustainability. He recognizes the tension inherent in his formal leadership of a company designed to give women entry into the workforce. Aside from his engagement at policy levels, the company is entirely run by women.
The working model forGlowork is an ideal match for its goal and targeted customers. Khalid is managing a team of 10 full time female employees and 5 female interns. The online platform presents an easy access station to the Saudi job market taking into consideration, mobility barriers, lack of information, and other limited communication channels through which women can find a job with ease. Virtual marketing and clear presentation of information on the portal have encouraged women to post their CVs. In addition, Khalid’s quick ability to attract companiesto register on his portal welcoming females to fill their job openings gave him much needed credibility to operate without speculation or resistance from the public.
Khalid began his venture by carefully planning his idea to ensure its success and feasibility. He assembled a team of experts from different fields and associated with partners in training, Research & Development (R&D) and Learning &Development (L&D). After putting in place a comprehensive business plan to launch Glowork, Khalid prioritized new strategies to include women living in remote areas and those who want to work from home, while taking in to account the requests of businesses for a way to track their employee’s performance. Working in line with, rather than confronting, the cultural norm at the moment which encourages women to work from home, Khalid came up with an innovative work from home solution called the “Virtual Office.” This advanced technology simulates all the needed resources that are in an actual office space, while allowing businesses to fully monitor and track the progress of their employees with different tasks of jobs like customer service, sales, and research and digital marketing. The system can even be adapted to cater to women with special needs and is convenient for women living in rural and isolated areas of the country to actively seek jobs and work from home.
To date, Glowork has created over 6,000 jobs for women, 50 of which were dedicated to women with special needs signaling a significant step towards promoting another level of inclusion. Khalid was able to reach women candidates and earn their confidence to post their CVs online. Currently, the website carries a database of CV’s that exceeds 1.2 million of highly qualified women and 159 companies who have agreed to open their doors to employing women if he could provide them with the right talent.
To further his agenda, Khalid established relationships with every university and college within the region that has female representation, ensuring that these educational institutions are aware of his initiative and share new job postings with female students seeking employment. Taking the lead in this field, Khalid provides practical support by conducting weekly in–person workshops to increase awareness of topics beyond the usual curriculum to instill positive career aspirations within young women.Khalid reaches females students who are about to graduate by organizing job fairs which bring the companies to the universities, while also promoting internship opportunities for female students. Before Khalid entered the universities, only male students were encouraged to pursue internship opportunities as college credit. He is orienting the minds of young students and introducing them to companies early on in their college careers.
In addition to promoting women’s employment by approaching private companies, Khalid is also tapping in to new sectors, which have been fully occupied by immigrant males. Assigning certain sectors to Saudi women has reduced government spending on unemployment benefits. He negotiated with the Ministry of Labor to convert whole sectors like cosmetics, lingerie, and accessories to becoming fully occupied by Saudi women. Saudi women had stopped going to these shops and resorted to buying online due to the cultural discomfort of buying such personal products from a male. Opening up these sectorswill provide 400 thousand jobs in the next 3 years to be filled by Saudi women only. In other sectors where men and women could work side by side but have not been, Khalid works directly with companies, such as one large hotel, encouraging them to employ women inthe food and beverage and tourismsector.
While continuing to build strategic partnerships, Khalid has worked diligently with the Ministry of Labor, the Human Resource Development Fund, and a number of relevant citizen sector organizations.Additionally, Khalid is in a position to promote fair women’s employment policies with his recent appointment to the Advisory Committee of the Minister of Labor.Currently, he is the voice within the committee pushing tochange policies that require small and medium sized enterprises to have separate entrances for women, to have equal salary regulations for women, and to require private companies who have more than 50 female employees to build a nursery in the office.
While employing more women and gradually changing gender roles, Khalid is taking incremental steps and promoting policy changes in order to reach his ultimate goal to end the segregation of men and women in many facets of life, starting with the work place. Khalid is making positive strides in a community aching for change and a government willing to advance in the area of women’s rights due to international pressure and the threat of neighboring uprisings.
This year, Khalid is planning to build on the momentum by penetrating new markets. He plans to increase the number of staff and extend the platform’s services throughout the country. For regional expansion, he will call on experts in those job markets to help him gain access to country specific information and navigate its varying dynamics. Khalid has made initial steps towards replicating his fully operational framework in Qatar, Yemen, Oman, and Libya. He has gained recognition from regional and international organizations like Wamda, Arabnet, ILO, World Economic Forum, and UNICEF. Khalid’s work has also been recognizedin Reuters, Wall Street journal, the New York Times, and the Financial Times.
As a child, Khalid had an early introduction to a borderless, cosmopolitan world. Khalid was born in Baghdad, Iraq to a Saudi father and mother with Iraqi origin, but he was raised and educated between Canadaand the UK,where developed his belief that people should have equal and diversified opportunities. He opted for an education in business although he comes from a family of doctors because he knew it would open new venues for him. He graduated from Saint Mary’s University ofCanada in 2007. Despite the fact that all his family lives in Canada, Khalid returned to his Gulf roots, feeling that he had work to do there.
At first Khalid struggled to find a career opportunity that suited him, due to lack of information on available jobs and an existing trend where entry level positions are often allocated to expatriates. He soon joined KPMG as a marketing supervisor and within three years only, he became the Country Marketing & Communications Manager for KPMG. He went on to excel in his career showing passion for integrating a social dimension to the world of business. He managed to lead KPMG to over 25 key awards in the fields of Corporate Social Responsibility and Working Environment, including Best Saudi Company to work for 4 years in a row and the King Khalid Award for Responsible Competitiveness for two years in a row.
His awareness of existing difficulties in the local job market spread outside himself when his sister returned from Canada to find a job and was not able to due to cultural barriers and lack of information. His sister’s struggle became the main driver of his movement to penetrate the Saudi job market and promote diversity and equality. In May of 2001 he founded Gloworkand turned it into a replicable innovative model for job creation for women. He is currently working on expansion plans while building strong partnerships. Khalid has gained much recognition for his work, ranked #3 in Gulf Business Magazine’s 30 under 30 most inspirational youth in the region. His initiative has also won the Excellence in Entrepreneurship Award at the Global Thirties Forum. Lastly, Khalid serves as a curator for the World Economic Forum for Saudi Arabia’s Global Shapers. Khalid utilizes the present cultural context and pursued all of the above opportunities to place himself at the epicenter of dialogue towards an integrated Saudi society that is part of the international community.