LS: What does it look like? What does the change look like for Saudi women in business?
SAK: Being able to be a board member is a change. Being able to be a CFO is a change. Being able to go to meetings where it was only male in the past, now it's just male-dominated is a change. Maybe somebody coming in from the outside won't see that. They see that women's place is very minimal, but we see it as a change from zero participation to 7, 8, 9 percent participation.
We have the lowest participation of women in the workplace in the world, that's right, but that participation is increasing year by year. My mother, the people of my mother's age, none of them worked. I was teaching in the university and I see all of my students now have an inclination to work. They want to participate in the workforce.
LS: How much more opportunity do they have now?
SAK: When I do the interviews [with young women] I see that each of them has had more than one offer to work. So, more and more companies are tapping into that resource. Women have capability to work in any company, and even the government now, they are putting more and more women's branches. So, they see that as a large workforce, that is a resource, that should be used, should be utilized in the workforce.
LS: Is there a backlash, a resistance to change?
SAK: There's always a part of society that doesn't want that change, that is afraid of that change. What we're doing, as women in the workforce, we are trying to ask for that change but we don't push for that change, because pushing for that change will end it for all of us. So what we are doing, we are in our own stride, in our own steady stride, we are pushing but very slowly.
LS: What's driving part of that change? Clearly some of it is the motivation of women in the workplace, but what of things like globalization and economic need?
SAK: Any development initially comes from the financial need. So, we see more and more families asking for double income, which encourages women to join the workforce.
Also, we have the globalization. Internet, television … that drives towards change. And, of course, we have the support of the government and that support of the government has helped us to step another step forward. The government is making more and more reforms that have made it easier for us to participate in the workforce. We are asked to come into companies, the government has asked women to participate in the governmental sectors, so this has pulled women into the workforce.
The women themselves want the change from inside. If you clearly want that change, you want to make a better future for your children, for your daughters, then you won't push for that change.
LS: Now there have been specific decisions such as the newfound ability of women to stay in hotels without a guardian [under a January 2008 ruling]. What impact does a decision like that have?
SAK: Maybe somebody coming from outside would see that decision as very trivial. Women not being allowed to stay in a hotel without a guardian, that's very trivial for somebody from the outside. But we see it as a very big milestone because that means that women have been given a kind of independence and that independence comes little by little. So being able to stay in a hotel without a guardian will lead to women being able to travel without a guardian.