Back in the eighties, when a female cousin of mine decided to delve into the exclusive corporate world here in Saudi as a manager of a high-profile confectionary factory, she had to do it remotely through a fax machine, teleconferencing and a side-kick male manager physically acting on her behalf! Today however, a different story is being told!
6 months ago, a sales-rep came back from a sales-call with sheer astonishment frozen on his face! He was in an all-female investment wallets company; jam-packed in the middle of a conference room with a female GM, financial manager & a bunch of other female employees as he was demonstrating our services. (a prize awaits he who correctly guess if he made the sale?)
Until then I couldn’t have thought of a situation where a male in Saudi is outnumbered by females except for the poor lingerie shop salesman! Which by the way, the ministry of labor has recently passed a law making it mandatory to higher Saudi females for this job.
The corporate life here in Saudi was until recently a male dominant one, and I mean literarily dominant! From executive secretaries, sweet-talking beautiful-from-far far-from-beauitiful sales personnel to the –usually good-looking female- receptionist, it was a man’s world, exclusively yours…
Something that was rather musing to me when I was delegated to our sister company's project back in late 2004, as the summer season-feel crept into our company, our female colleagues -with their lack of professional tentativeness- thought it was ok to wear almost beach-side swimsuit cover-ups to work!
Or is it that they thought the workplace was yet another yippi-yay venue for socializing? I’m still mystified, but with the lack of a regulating-directive or an underlying code of practice (if not a total overlooking encouragement for unprofessional and essentially revealing dress-code), our company back home was already an uncomfortable place to be at.
So with such a corrupted & emotionally-charged psyche, I found Saudi a haven for deluded professionals (ehm…) like my humble self who are focused on being productive with their work with less seductive distractions! But who was that sweet-talking half-covered-with-Abaya sales rep who just marched into our eastern province branch few months back?
She was a sales rep from a local bank selling credit-cards! For the love of God, skipping everything a female professional can do, why did this Saudi woman decide to pick (or was she picked?) such a typical physique-centric job when the job market was opened for the female workforce?
I’ve met many professional working women, who deserve the capacity they’re filling, who understand the dynamics of the work place, how unprofessional & unproductive it is not to stick with a professional attire, and this was a disclaimer & a message to my x- female colleagues… back to the subject in hand!
The other day, a Saudi colleague of mine was sweating as he was about to make a phone call! The business card of the contact person he was calling was for a Saudi woman! But he never dealt with a non-relative (non-relative! Perhaps he only dealt with his mother, sisters aunts & wife(s)) women before as it seems, perhaps the closest of such experience is when dealing with a female nurse at a private hospital or a flaringly gay-looking Filipino McD cashier!
He was struggling to replace the common (must also add: useless) chattery & flattery lines between male counterparts as it was definitely not fit when addressed to a woman, but he improved by the day, yet the symptoms of near heart-attack experience is still there!
I’m not fond of unnecessary mixed environments (gender-ly mixed that is), yet the segregation between genders at all levels here in Saudi have resulted in far more intrinsic social issues that are potentially chronic than it actually protected the society from any anticipated vice!
Another extract from this emerging phenomena is that some companies have started hiring females by department! For instance, you’ll find the whole of a graphic-design department at a marketing agency we deal with; comprised of a female workforce encapsulated in a private section, an interesting concept for sure, definitely practical during this transitional period of Saudi corporate culture.
I believe in a rare opportunity here in Saudi to start something new, to set the record straight and properly regulate the work environment and professional distribution of roles that will facilitate both for men & women the proper jobs in the proper surrounding to achieve utmost productivity and reduce the unhealthy aspects of mixed workplaces!
To the credit of some of the Saudi working women I met, I saw sheer sincerity and seriousness towards their work, in contrast to the infectious attitude of the many female colleagues of mine back home who valued their payroll in terms of Kinda, perfect-nail, TONY&GUY and the ability to go for therapeutic casual shopping at Mecca Mall!
It seems that the urge to prove one’s self in a dominantly male society have created a professional culture among the Saudi women pursuing their careers, and many seem to have excelled as well!