Rewiring A Nation: Closing Gender Gaps With Soft Skills In Saudi Arabia

Rewiring A Nation: Closing Gender Gaps With Soft Skills In Saudi Arabia
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Cross-Cultural Communications Specialist
5 min read
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“Dream big- because it takes the same amount of effort as dreaming small,” says Jorge Lemann. And I agree.  People often point to the success stories of individuals like Warren Buffett, Sarah Blakely, and Mudassir Sheikha. However, many forget that it took all these people at least ten years to become an “overnight” success story. Years of hard work and time spent learning their craft is crucial to the success of all admired entrepreneurs. 

And while not all of us are cut out to be the next “overnight” success, all of us can learn how to get further on our own vocational paths by learning from them. There is, however, a common theme in success stories. You need to be willing to take a leap of faith, and be comfortable being uncomfortable. 

But how do you leap, if you are just another unshakable female optimist, who lives in Saudi Arabia? With 20% of Saudi women being unemployed and 80% of the total population working for the government, how does the government fulfill its ambitious Vision 2030 agenda, and provide you and other purposeful women with the necessary opportunity for a more entrepreneurial path? 

Related: Saudi Arabia's Future Female Entrepreneurs

It’s encouraging to see that the country recently improved its ratings on Economic Participation and Opportunity sub index, making progress in wage equality; however, it is far from achieving its full potential. To get where the society needs to go, women need to have access to innovative training that includes both technology and intrapersonal skills. Learning the latest technology skills can’t come at the expense of investing in the basic, core skills that people need, to be successful in the workforce. Skills like creativity, empathy, and problem-solving build up the human capital of any thriving society. 

Today, we live in a global world that flourishes on an economy of relationships. The ecosystems of relationships, which you build around you is the key ingredient in your success. Hence, programs and initiatives must evolve to adapt to this relationship-based economy. For example, Saudi youth has access to the means to launch a business, but in order for the business to prosper, entrepreneurs need soft skills, such as emotional intelligence, and cognitive flexibility. These are the skills that are required in a relationship economy.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Development of Saudi Arabia seems to recognize this need. They have partnered up with Harvard Kennedy School to develop socio-emotional training for vocational students in the Kingdom. Social enterprises addressing these needs in Saudi Arabia are slowly gaining traction in other places as well. While Glowork connects female job-seekers with employers, Tassamy, a Riyadh-based non-profit, is trying to solve the challenge created by the lack of soft skills training. They are offering a year-long program to train entrepreneurs in the art of communication, listening and problem-solving skills. in an unprecedented move, soft skills training for women in the workforce was pioneered by HRH Princess Reema Al Saud

While soft skills are crucial, employers in GCC still struggle with the applicants’ lack of work experience, and the high importance of salary expectation and security. Hence, it is a challenge on both sides of the spectrum, which needs to be addressed through educational system, as well. 

Related: Education In The Middle East

Vocation training, aligning curriculum with employer’s needs, and information about future career paths combined help students and future job seekers be better prepared for success in the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Did you know that students in Dammam (mostly women) are four times likely to seek employment than those in Riyadh? Luckily, there are platforms such as Emkan Education, which help organizations and institutions in Saudi Arabia develop vocational training programs with a focus on local economy

Of course, no training will provide you with your ultimate ‘golden ticket’ in the world of employment. I often struggle to explain this to international students in my cross-cultural trainings. Every student wants to get an ‘ideal’ job right out of the gate. And you can do this if you have wasta in your native country. But what if you need to complete at least one internship in order to graduate from a U.S. institution, or if, God forbid, your relative who promised you the chance suddenly passes. Life if full of unforeseen circumstances and being able to learn, adapt, and relearn again is the true golden ticket. 

Entrepreneurs are not born, they are made. It takes cultures and educational systems, encouragement of teachers and families, and exposure to respected national role models to raise new leaders. Without a doubt, the Saudi female entrepreneurs do not lack the latter, with such great female entrepreneurial examples as Reem Asad, Zakia Attar and Norah Almesned, who are reshaping Kingdom’s economic landscape. 

Neuroscientists say it takes anywhere from nine to eighteen months to rewire the brain and relearn habits. I am just curious to see how long it takes a nation to do this! 

Related: Road To 2030: The Economic Impact Of Women Driving In Saudi Arabia

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