Saudi Arabia increases opportunities for working women

The labor market in Saudi Arabia is growing, mainly due to two initiatives to bring more people into the workforce. The country is relaxing its long-held restrictions keeping women out of the workplace and investing in opportunities to train new workers.

Women joining the workforce 
According to Zawya, the number of women employed in Saudi Arabia has nearly doubled in the last year and grown 10 times over the last four years. Private sector employment for women in the country is now at 400,000, up from 48,406 in 2009. Women have traditionally been discouraged, if not outright barred, from taking jobs, but changes in the country's culture and labor market have led to a change in this attitude. The Saudi labor ministry has resisted attempts by conservatives to maintain discriminatory policies, opening the door for women to work in industrial and commercial positions.

Education appears to be the most attractive field for Saudi women at the moment. Arab News reported on a Human Resources Development Fund survey that found that 1.2 million women graduating from college in the country would prefer teaching positions over any other. A separate survey, also including men and only about half students, found that 27 percent of the population favor education and media jobs.

Increasing Saudi employment 
One factor contributing to the growing acceptance of working women is the high number of foreign workers currently employed in Saudi Arabia, according to Zawya. Currently, about 9 million employees, or one-third of the country's total, are not Saudi citizens. They work mainly in construction and service jobs.

Also helping to boost Saudi employment is a new focus on online education. Despite the Saudi population's high level of education, Businessweek reported that many people lack the skills needed for private sector employment. Working with EdX, an online education platform created by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Saudi Ministry of Labor said that it hopes to empower citizens to gain the training they need for jobs. Women are one area of focus for the new initiative, as well as young people, rural dwellers and those with disabilities, all of whom historically have difficulty finding employment in Saudi Arabia. Arts and humanities degrees are awarded to Saudi women at up to five times the rate of degrees in science, math, and computing fields.