By Kristen Carpenter and Giovanna DaSilva
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia became the first country to grant a robot by the name of Sophia full-fledged citizenship. Critics noted that while Sophia can roam the streets of the country unaccompanied, Saudi Arabia’s female citizens are not afforded this right. After all, women are still prohibited from working or travelling without permission from a male guardian. But these attitudes may be changing because of the efforts of Saudi entrepreneurs.
The Saudi Arabian government has implemented legislative reforms to allow women certain freedoms. Saudi Arabia, for example, recently legalized driving by women, an important milestone in advancing their rights in the kingdom.
Legislation alone, however, fails to fully address the oppressive culture women face in the country. Social entrepreneurship can play an important role in facilitating this change. Glowork, the first Saudi female job-matching service, aims to help women achieve economic independence through employment.
Khalid Alkhudair founded Glowork in 2011, after he witnessed the difficulties women face in obtaining employment. “We entered into companies that didn’t have women and convinced them to employ females,” Alkhudair remarks in an interview.
By partnering with the Saudi Ministry of Labor, Glowork has access to the Ministry’s employment database, which provides information on the 1.6 million jobless women in the country. Glowork receives a commission from the government for each job match. Additionally, the company acts as an advisor to the government in drafting legislation that supports increased presence of women entering the workforce. The company has successfully matched over 27,000 women with employment, facilitating economic growth and opportunities for female advancement. Glowork also mentors women through the hiring process at its career center. Its program, “A Step Ahead,” provides job training workshops and hosts job fairs. Outside of Saudi Arabia, Glowork currently has an office in Jordan with plans to increase its presence in Oman.
Recently, Alkhudair designed a glowork smartphone app. With this app, women are able to meet and connect with future employers, create digital resumes, and use geolocation to access an online map of businesses looking to hire nearby. Additionally, women use the app to communicate with one another, fostering a network of support and camaraderie.
The company’s success has spurred controversy among some citizens. In one instance, a grocery chain that employed 11 women through Glowork faced an organized boycott, leaving the owner no choice but to fire the women. Most efforts at integration, however, have been successful. As female presence in the public sphere increases, cultural attitudes will likely shift accordingly.
Currently, Saudi Arabia ranks 141 out of 144 countries in the World Economic Forum’s global gender gap index. While there is a long way to go in terms of equality, progress will continue to be made through social enterprises such as Glowork. Thanks to Khalid Alkhudair, Saudi women now have greater access to employment. Cultural shifts result from decentralized efforts as well as government mandates. For this reason, entrepreneurs wield significant power in driving social change.