The Business Year

Dr. Reem Al Saud

SAUDI ARABIA - Diplomacy

Equal opportunities for female leadership

Member, Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Delegation to the UN


Dr. Reem Al Saud is a member of the Saudi Arabia’s Permanent Delegation to the United Nations in New York. She holds a master’s degree in social policy and a PhD in Middle Eastern studies, both from Oxford University. She was a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government working on enhancing Saudi labor policies, especially those concerned with women. Her breadth of experience includes economic analysis, capacity building and outreach. She is an expert in evidence-based policy design, women’s labor force participation, and the use of legal, financial, and economic instruments to achieve sustainable development. Throughout her career, she has incorporated gender-sensitive policies that enhance the employment outlook for women, while protecting their rights and promoting equality in the labor market. More specifically, her work in developing countries with disadvantaged women and youth led to these groups becoming agents of change in their communities.

“My message to young women entering the labor market is to not be afraid to be selective.“

In your current role, how are you able to drive this agenda of sustainable development and promote female leadership?

I participated in the negotiations on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development behalf of Saudi Arabia. The Agenda has 17 development goals and one of them promotes gender equality through the economic and social empowerment of women. During the negotiations, all countries realized that the sustainable change we are seeking cannot happen if we do not support equal opportunities for female leadership in various arenas. When I mean leadership, I mean change makers in bringing different values and priorities that can benefit the wider community and subsequently a more sustainable development.

The UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development calls for holistic approach to development. Could you tell us more about that approach?

The 2030 Agenda covers three dimensions: social, economic, and environmental in order to ensure development is sustainable because they are all interconnected to ensure continued prosperity of the people and the planet. The agenda also calls for a world “where physical, mental and social well-being are assured.” This means that it’s vital to incorporate these aspects to ensure healthy lives and support well-being to achieve sustainable development. Empowering individuals with equal health opportunities can increase economic growth and development.

How do you assess the changes at the national level in recent years when it comes to your agenda, and what are your main advocacy points in terms of more female leadership and equality?

Allowing women to drive was definitively a positive step in the right direction, because there is no way we could have grown as a nation and as people otherwise. Women’s driving will boost the economy because it eases their access to the workforce allowing them to contribute to the country’s development. In the past, employers discriminated against them because they did not have a secure day-to-day means of getting to work. A great deal of work has been done in terms of providing job opportunities for women in Saudi in terms of supportive employment policies such as training and transportation subsidies. Under Vision 2030, 450,000 jobs have been created for women, and female labor force participation has increased from 12% in 2009 to 18% in 2017. One thing I would like to see change everywhere in the world is meaningful employment for women. Many women end up working in low-skilled jobs that do not have a career path, so they may not invest in their skills because they see few prospects in high-skilled jobs. In terms of policy, there has to be a focus on equal opportunities for everyone based on skills. In Saudi Arabia, there are more women with higher education than men. This says a great deal about their career prospects. Therefore, investing in women’s career development and providing the necessary training and equal job opportunities for them is equally important for their careers and the economy.

What would be your message to young female graduates entering the labor market who want to become agents of change in Saudi Arabia today?

Often, men and women start seeking job opportunities after they graduate because the family structure is one where the head of the household is the main provider. However, I would suggest getting the necessary skills even before they graduate through internships or part-time jobs. This will help them understand the labor market and its needs and the career path they might want to choose or switch to. Second, my message to young women entering the labor market is to not be afraid to be selective about your career path and what you want to gain from your work. Women tend to be afraid to say “no” because they do not want to be perceived as incapable of doing the task or less skilled. I’ve noticed in work environments that women will take on dead-end tasks, such as getting the coffee and other admin work when they have the opportunity and the skills to intellectually contribute to the work environment instead.



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