How Saudi women’s participation in logistics and e-commerce is gaining momentum
DUBAI: With every passing year, more and more Saudi women are joining the Kingdom’s workforce in a host of industries long dominated by men, in large part thanks to reforms introduced under the Vision 2030 reform agenda.
The Vision 2030 reform agenda was launched in 2017 to help diversify the Saudi economy away from oil by tapping the energy and ideas of the Kingdom’s own young people — particularly its long-underrepresented women.
To this end, the Kingdom brought forward legislation that prevented gender discrimination in wages, occupations and working hours, and enabled women to incorporate businesses without obtaining prior consent. It also launched leadership training programs designed to boost the number of women in management roles.
Since the June 2020 launch of Amazon.sa, a dedicated online store for customers in Saudi Arabia, Amazon has been on a hiring spree, recruiting young Saudis to help facilitate and expand its delivery logistics network at a local level.
More recently, Amazon’s recruiters have been targeting Saudi women to manage operations in the Kingdom, in keeping with the government’s drive to Saudize its workforce and empower women.
The US multinational best known for its e-commerce platforms and more recently for its forays into cloud computing, digital streaming and artificial intelligence is today one of the world’s most valuable and widely recognized brands.
The Amazon empire was built on the back of a streamlined global logistics network, staffed by legions of employees based at distribution centers all over the world.
Amazon’s latest Saudi hiring scheme was launched in March this year to create opportunities for women in collaboration with the company’s delivery service partners.
“The main challenge is the idea that these jobs are only for men,” Eman Al-Enezi, Amazon KSA’s first Saudi female delivery associate, told Arab News. “I am proud to shatter this misconception and prove that women are equally as capable in this area.”
Amazon says that it drew significant interest among women eager to find work in the logistics sector when it first launched its recruitment program in Riyadh, Jeddah, Abha and Dammam last year.
In response to this demand, according to the company, the program this year offers expanded opportunities for female delivery associates in Jazan, Al-Qassim, Makkah, Madinah and Al-Hofuf.
Al-Enezi says that the program has been very fulfilling and hopes more Saudi women will consider a career in logistics as a result.
“Since joining the company, I have been impressed by the efforts made to ensure my safety and comfort, and I appreciate the flexibility my role offers,” she said.
“Having been with Amazon for a while now, I have witnessed first-hand the positive impact of the company’s female delivery associate hiring program.
“My colleagues are settling in well to their new working environment and are happy to be part of a dynamic organization that puts their needs first.”
Amazon says that it is proud to have fulfilled its commitment to workplace diversity by creating jobs for Saudi women.
“At Amazon, we have always firmly believed that diversity unlocks fresh perspectives,” Prashant Saran, director of operations for Amazon Middle East and North Africa, told Arab News.
“These, in turn, enable us to harness the power of innovation and find new ways to better serve the evolving needs of our customers. We are actively trying to remove barriers in an industry that has traditionally been seen as male dominated, not only in Saudi Arabia but across the globe.
“We are proud to partner with local businesses across the country to help level the playing field and create opportunities for talented women to build successful careers in a future-facing industry.
“This program is fully aligned with Amazon’s global commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion, while also supporting the goals of Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 national transformation strategy.”
According to Saran, Amazon works directly with its delivery service partners to provide training that is geared toward helping female delivery associates balance their individual requirements, using their feedback to tailor work to their lifestyles.
“This allows us to adapt the program to suit their needs in real time,” Saran said. “For instance, we have adopted a flexible approach to working hours, and the routes involved include deliveries to public areas, namely universities, hospitals, compounds and schools.”
Cutting-edge digital technologies and shop-floor automation have transformed the logistics industry in recent years, making careers in the sector accessible to people of all backgrounds and abilities.
However, it is the evolution of social attitudes toward women in the workplace and changes in the legal framework of Middle Eastern societies that has unlocked their suppressed potential.
“Here in the MENA region, the past few years have brought unprecedented, transformative changes,” Saran said. “In today’s Saudi Arabia, women hold leadership positions and exercise the highest levels of authority across both business and government.”
Women’s empowerment has been high on the Saudi government’s agenda — with the private sector’s wholehearted endorsement. “By maintaining the momentum of these efforts, we can help accelerate the speed of change even further,” Saran said.
Indeed, while a diverse and inclusive culture is critical to recruiting and retaining women, Saran believes that it is equally important to create a clear path for them to advance and achieve their full potential.
“Increased flexibility, mentoring programs and leadership training can all contribute to ensuring women employees feel valued, engaged and motivated to stay on the path to leadership,” he said.
“With this goal in mind, it is important to nurture a corporate culture that is inclusive, just and equitable, and empowers Saudi women to successfully grow their careers. It is also vital for organizations to evaluate their boards and leadership teams for diversity.”
In line with the Saudi government’s priorities, Amazon says that it has launched its own inclusive leadership training programs to help ensure a gender-balanced talent pipeline.
From recruitment and retention to nurturing leaders, the company says, efforts are being made to ensure a diverse and inclusive workplace where women feel comfortable and empowered to aspire to leadership roles.
“Seeing women succeed as leaders provides inspiration and strong motivation to other female employees,” Saran said. “These women, in turn, act as role models and mentors to nurture future female leaders within organizations.”
Amazon is not alone. Many other private-sector entities are prioritizing the promotion of women to leadership roles.
“What Amazon is doing is great and I predict we will see similar initiatives coming from the private sector this year, in support of the Saudi national transformation journey,” Mona Althagafi, Serco Middle East’s KSA country director, told Arab News.
“As leaders in this country, it is up to us to be the change. We cannot sit back and hope that gender equality happens. We need to be the driving force behind it.”
Like Amazon, Serco’s focus on diversity in its own talent acquisition and upskilling processes has boosted female representation among its executive team to 50 percent. Additionally, some 30 percent of its extended leadership team is represented by women.
“In 2020, we had no female representation in senior operational roles and decided to change that narrative,” Althagafi said.
These incentives appear to be working. A recent survey by Gartner, a US tech research and consulting firm, revealed that 2021 saw the highest proportion of women in the global supply chain workforce for the past five years.
These upward trends point to a bright future both for the Saudi e-commerce logistics industry and for the working lives of Saudi women.
“Amazon’s ambition to be a great place to work has reinforced our resolve to create the best possible working environments for women,” Saran said.
“Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion resonates throughout the organization and we will continue to seek new ways to empower our female employees in Saudi Arabia and across the globe.”
For Al-Enezi, the fresh Amazon recruit, anything seems possible.
“We are grateful for this opportunity to break down barriers for Saudi women, which represents a significant step toward gender equality in the industry,” she said.
“The pace of change has been remarkable, and it’s inspiring to be part of it all.”