Many Saudi women consider 'saleswomen' tag infra dig: Poll |
Saudi Gazette - 10 August, 2012
The challenge for the empowerment of Saudi women in the retail workplace remains an uphill task although creating awareness amongst Saudi women about the nature of the retail sector may encourage a greater number to work in the sector.
A study titled, “Females tackling the challenges in the retail sector - Saudi Arabia” and released earlier this week revealed that 58 percent of Saudi women polled in a survey said they do not accept the concept of women working in retail sales. Some 42 percent of women polled were fine with the idea of Saudi women working in the retail sector.
The study was done by Alwane in conjunction with international consultancy, KPMG; Glowork, a website dedicated to the empowerment of women in the Middle East; and the Riyadh subsidiary of top British department store, Harvey Nichols.
The survey, conducted by Najla Abdulrahman Al-Saud of Glowork on a simple random sampling (SRS) basis, admittedly has a low sampling of only a hundred respondents, although they are representative of “female Saudi citizens from all the regions in the Kingdom”. What is revealing is that the sample represents Saudi female youth and young adults aged between 18 years and 36 years.
The study, according to Khalid W. Alkhudair, Country Officer for Saudi Arabia of Alwane, a newly established regional coalition of experienced and emerging leaders from 17 MENA countries working toward the advancement of women’s leadership in the Arab World, and who is also the CCO, Markets, at KPMG Saudi Arabia and the Founder of Glowork, is in response to the passing of a law in 2011 by the Ministry of Labor that stated that all lingerie shops throughout the Kingdom must have Saudi females working as their front of?ce staff. This law was successfully implemented in January 2012.
In July, Phase Two of the law, which states all cosmetics stores must have Saudi women as their front of?ce staff was enacted. This is followed by several other laws that will be implemented throughout the coming months and years which will help revolutionize the retail industry in the Kingdom and create thousands of opportunities for Saudi women.
“Feminization” as I like to call it,” stressed Alkhudair in a statement, “is the new trend in Saudi Arabia and in my view will be what will help balance our gender equality in the workplace. The results and rewards of these laws won’t be seen in the short term, but what is for sure, Labor Minister Adel Fakieh has written his name in the history books of labor reform. As it is a new sector for Saudi women to work in, there have been bottlenecks, and this is what we hope to address from this survey”.
But whether the survey, as the promoters suggest, “will help put the retail sector under the microscope and illustrate the fallbacks of attracting Saudi women to work in the retail sector”, must remain a moot point given the complexities of Saudi society especially in relation to gender equality and female empowerment in the workplace.
As the study itself confirms, the concept of working in the retail sector is relatively new to Saudi culture and the Saudi market. Retail companies are struggling to attract Saudi women to work in retail sales.
This is not surprising given the variety of reasons offered by the respondents for not working or wanting to work in the retail sector. They include family non-acceptance of the concept; family pressure against working in the retail sector; lack of awareness of the concept of retail sales and work opportunities; the lack of segregation areas in shopping malls and other retail outlets; social norms and pressures; lack of transportation; and the concept of Hay’aa (modesty).
Indeed, some 42 percent of respondents said they had no knowledge of what retail work is all about, while 32 percent had some idea about retail sales.
This, according to the author, “showcases that currently sales women in the retail industry are looked down upon and degraded as the term “saleswoman” in Saudi Arabia has been a phrase that has been traditionally viewed as older women who make street-side sales. This is an ideology that must be erased and education about the retail industry is needed.”
On the positive side, Saudi women were very clear as to what action needs to be taken to encourage local women to work in the retail sector. This includes the introduction and publicizing of the reformed labor laws and regulations relating to the employment of Saudi women through awareness campaigns; family-friendly working hours and shifts including opportunities for part-time work; the implementation of a clear compensation structure; and compulsory training to all job seekers who are willing to work in the retail sector. An overwhelming number of respondents agreed that an awareness campaign will encourage and attract Saudi women to work in the retail sector.
The author concluded that:
Females are willing to work in the retail industry, but more awareness and education about the industry is needed.
Success stories need to be told and it does not fall on the Ministry of Labor alone to conduct such awareness campaigns but employers should also be pro-active and set the example.
Females were more attracted to working in cosmetics stores and it is due to the fact that employers offer them vigorous training programs and challenges which jobseekers welcome. An example is “L’Oreal” that sends all new employees to Rome for two weeks for intensive hands on training.
Others would prefer working in clothing stores, lingerie shops, furniture departments and in opticians.
The title “beautician” has helped source candidates very easily for the position as opposed to “sales executive”.
The promoters, Alwane Saudi Arabia alongside its partners in KPMG, Glowork and Harvey Nichols (Riyadh), have already started to jointly work on a campaign designed “to enhance and raise awareness about working women in the retail sector, which will try to tap into the ground roots of the problem faced by our society in education about the retail sector and showcase the success stories.”
If such initiatives are successful, it could have an interesting and important initial impact on gender equality in retail employment in the Kingdom, but any major or meaningful equalization of the Saudi retail sector employment market at least in the short term must remain a moot point. Realistically, this initiative, backed by the labor law reforms, is a mere beginning on the long and often controversial road to female empowerment in the retail sector in the Kingdom.