Businesswomen in Saudi Arabia have proposed a women-only city so that career minded women can have the privacy accorded them by Sharia customs. Creating 5,000 jobs, this will give women greater independence while observing gender separation at work. There will be training opportunities to develop women’s talents in the initial areas of textiles, pharmaceuticals and food processing.
65% of working women in Saudi Arabia in a YouGov survey expressed a desire to achieve financial independence and to use their educational qualifications. The government has also instructed the creation of more job openings for women who need to have a role in ensuring their country’s development. This ‘city’ will be sited close to residential accommodation as women can still only drive if they have a male relation’s permission. If this centre in Hofuf succeeds, when it opens next year, there are plans to develop four more areas. Until recently, in a slightly paradoxical way, women had to buy their most intimate items – underwear and cosmetics, from male shop assistants. As a consequence, a law was enforced allowing women to serve in lingerie and cosmetics shops, opening up new retail opportunities for women.
This news just made me stop and think. Is there a lesson for us here? I will be fascinated to watch how things develop in Saudi – just imagine if you could start from scratch and design a female friendly workplace right from the start. What would segregation of the sexes do for us? Why are we only asking for 25% representation at board level? Why not just go the whole hog and keep everything completely female?
What would be different?
1) Well everyone would probably start from the premise that women would want to work and raise children so flexibility would be hard wired into the system right from the start.
2) Women would tend to come to work and aim to get everything done in the time available rather than just hang around later catching up.
3) While football analogies may go down (although post Olympics we are experts on even obscure sports), I think there might be lots of robust and wildly politically incorrect conversations as we know how open women tend to be about their lives when they get together.
4) Despite all the innuendo about women’s inability to work together, we know that women when under pressure use ‘tend and befriend’ techniques as opposed to the more classically male, testosterone fuelled fight or flight approaches. How much calmer it could all be.
5) The organisation could easily be more inclusive, team focused and less hierarchical than the male dominated version.
There would probably be many other differences in an all female organisation – send us your speculations. In the western world, we consider diversity of talent to be essential to the modern organisation. The research evidence tends to point to success through diversity as a way of incorporating the full range of talent. However, there are times when it feels like an uphill struggle to get that concept fully understood rather than just have a veneer of lip service paid to it. Perhaps we should give in and say just segregate us, let us get on with it and stop having these outdated conversations about a woman’s place. Come to think of it a short commute could be really appealing too!
Let’s wish them well and keep track of how it works for the women of Saudi.
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