A new dawn for Saudi diwaniya: AmCham holds its first Women in Business committee meeting
RIYADH: In Saudi culture, a diwaniya is typically a place where men gather in a home or casual setting to engage in dialogue. While sitting on sofas, they dive into conversation and friendly exchanges to resolve the political and social issues affecting their community.
The diwaniya held on Friday night in an opulent residence a short drive away from Riyadh was different in that it was hosted by a man, but led by women.
Against a backdrop of beautiful art, the American Chamber of Commerce in Saudi Arabia held its first Women in Business diwaniya.
Jamila El-Dajani, chairwoman of the AmCham WIB committee, began the night with a speech highlighting how far businesswomen living in Saudi Arabia had come, but where the Kingdom still needed to go.
She also offered her gratitude to the Saudi men who had made it a point to include women in the diwaniya-style space.
“I would like to start off today by thanking some important members of our community. Thank you to the Al-Muhaidib family and, more so, Musaab Al-Muhaidib, for graciously hosting us.
“It is with his generosity that we are able to bring this initiative to life and embed women into a deeply rooted tradition within Saudi culture,” El-Dajani said.
Al-Muhaidib, who was attending, allowed his family residence to be used as a gathering place for thoughts and ideas.
The sofas, positioned in a U-shape, created an inviting atmosphere in which people were encouraged to freely speak about their trials and triumphs in a safe space, this time highlighting women and not just men as leaders.
During the night, two questions were displayed prominently on screens.
The first was: “How can we, as a society, come together to empower women around us to excel in their careers and reshape the definition of more inclusive leadership?”
The second was: “Seeing as taking care of family is one of the most predominant reasons for career breaks amongst women, how can we address this both within a social context and organizational one?”
The WIB program launched in January 2020 with the purpose of advancing women’s leadership and career development in Saudi Arabia.
The AmCham experience was created to help in the bilateral engagement on the inclusion and advancement of women as outlined in the Vision 2030 development goals.
“Exceeding the goal to have 30 percent of the workforce as women by 2030 is an incredible start. Now, it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work,” Hana Nemec, who is the AmChamKSA head of communications and WIB lead, told Arab News. “With all of these opportunities for women in Saudi Arabia, I am confident that we will continue to exceed expectations and grow into more leadership roles. After six years as an expatriate in the Kingdom, I have so much pride in how far women’s empowerment initiatives have come.”
Husam Al-Saleh, deputy CEO of Arabian Hala Group, was one of several Saudi men who sat and listened to the women speak that night.
“The discussion about women and career and empowerment, and seeing some of the successful ladies around the room, really gave me an insight on what are some of the challenges they face in developing themselves and making sure that they have a career,” Al-Saleh told Arab News. “I think my take-home value is that I need to sit down with my team members and understand if they know the difference between a job and a career—and that should be done from the interview process—and what are their aspirations, what drives them to do what they want to do.
“Do they want to make a change in this world or do they want to make a change for themselves or their life they are currently living in? And that is something I really took to heart and I need to develop myself more on being open and able to coach them to get what they deserve.”
One of the women in the room who opened up a lot of doors for Saudi women by walking through them herself was Dana Al-Ajlani, the head of public affairs for Sanofi in the Gulf Cooperation Council and AmCham co-chair.
Al-Ajlani grew up in a conservative Saudi family that stressed the importance of hard work and education, rising through the ranks to be in her prestigious position today.
She credited her father and grandfather’s guidance in helping her navigate male-dominated society, but also her grit and drive.
When she joined the workforce many decades ago, she was always the first woman to enter every position she was hired for. Now, she is happy to pass on the baton.
“To me, what I’m most proud of, yes, I was the first woman to ever be hired into each organization. But, by the time I left, I made sure I wasn’t the only one,” Al-Ajlani told Arab News.
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