The time is now for Saudi Arabia’s women, according to Hessa Al Mazrou, the kingdom’s only female general manager of a hotel, namely the Novotel Suites in Riyadh.
Having started her career aged 21, she reveals lessons learned over more than a decade of experience in the industry. More notably, she encourages women to remain patient as the country’s framework develops to their favour, and urges them to create, and grab, the opportunities that come their way.
How have career opportunities changed for women in Saudi and the region?
Under Vision 2030, a number of social reforms have been put in place with the aim of increasing the participation of women in the workplace from 22 percent to 30 percent. This has naturally opened up many career opportunities for women in both the public and private sector. Today, we find many more women actively looking at career opportunities across various industries. These are all positive signs for the future of the kingdom.
What factors have contributed to your success?
There was some scepticism behind my appointment and whether or not it was the right decision to make. It was not easy. Belief in myself and my abilities, coupled with my passion for the industry, certainly helped, but it was the support of Al Hokair Group and Accor Hotels that really encouraged me to continue to develop.
It seems that there are a lot of initiatives to ensure women follow in your footsteps in Saudi…
The future is bright for women in Saudi Arabia. Not only do we have the full support of the government, but we are also seeing more and more initiatives and programmes being put forward by the private sector, including the hospitality industry, especially for women. Events such as the Women Empowerment and Integration Forum provide a great platform to inspire women to pursue and grow careers. As a result, more and more women are being brought into senior roles across the kingdom.
How do you feel about the mantle of role model and your position to create opportunity for future generations?
Being a role model brings a great deal of responsibility. Role models need to have the correct principles, values and ethics, which have an impact on those they engage with across the wider society. My family, organisation and community entrusted me with bringing about change. It is my responsibility to positively influence other women, especially those looking to either progress in or enter the hospitality and tourism sectors in Saudi Arabia, and truly motivate them to understand that nothing is impossible.
Do you have any advice on countering stereotypes?
Since entering the hospitality industry ten years ago, I have been fortunate enough to have colleagues who support and encourage me. Even today, the wider team that I work with is incredibly proud of my work. However, for those who may come across any form of stereotyping in the workforce, my advice is to be patient and determined. It is important to allow yourself to use doubt from others as a motivation to succeed.
The kingdom is embarking on a path of transformative growth. I am certain that in the coming years, this change will encourage more women to enter into senior positions across different industries.
Do you think Saudi businesswomen need support from the wider community in order to create a wave of change?
It is very important that the wider community continues to support the reforms being put in place. The current infrastructure and support system for women is quickly being realised and in turn, welcoming more females into the workforce.
Have you participated in any of the government initiatives aimed at encouraging more women to get educated and pursue a career?
I am proud to have been able to participate in Women at Accor Generation (WAAG), a global network with over 10,000 members, that was launched to overcome gender stereotypes, promote gender equality and offer support to women within the Accor Group. The company also contributes to the United Nation’s HeforShe initiative, and aims to spread the culture of equality by assigning responsibility for male colleagues to take demonstrable action towards gender diversity.
What is Accor Hotels doing to attract tourists to Saudi Arabia, and what are your thoughts on tourism in the kingdom as a whole? What needs to be done to attract people to come to the country?
As much as SAR9.93bn ($2.6bn) has been allocated for travel and tourism related projects in the government’s 2017 budget. In the same year, it also launched a Red Sea beach tourism project, and we anticipate the start of tourism visa issuances during the first quarter of 2018.
Furthermore, Saudisation is a core component in ensuring hoteliers actively contribute back towards the local society and provide guests with the most authentic local experience possible.
We hope to hire more than 5,000 Saudi nationals over the next five years, making up 50 percent of staff across our hotels. In order to achieve this, we have initiated one of the region’s first our leading learning divisions, Accor Hotels Acedemie Middle East & Africa with the Saudi Management Training Programme (SMTP).
Are consumers looking for more affordable accommodation options today compared to several years ago? What changes in consumer behaviour have you seen?
In Saudi Arabia, much like the wider region, we have seen greater demand in the economy and midscale segments. In particular there has been an increased appetite for internationally-branded quality hotels in these segments.
A majority of the focus for developers has been in key business centres such as Riyadh and Jeddah given increasing economic and tourism-related activities across the kingdom. We believe this trend will continue to grow beyond these primary cities to other key development zones such as Al Khobar and Yanbu.
To conclude, what would you tell other Saudi women who might be hesitant to start a career in the kingdom?
I have been incredibly fortunate throughout my career in the hospitality and travel industry. So I can confidently say that I was never hesitant to pursue a career, even when I started with the PR and communications team at Al Hokair Group at the age of 21.
Fortunately, I have also been provided with growth opportunities by being in an environment that supports my success. I was one of four colleagues selected from the region to attend the group’s International Hotel Management Programme (IHMP), an educational programme for high potential employees. It includes classroom training sessions, self-paced e-learning courses, several virtual classrooms and in-depth mentoring.
For young women looking to enter the workforce, having a positive environment and a solid support system make a world of a difference.
My family has been a pillar of support for me. I am the eldest sibling to five brothers and one sister. Their pride and belief in me and my abilities has provided me with the courage to move ahead in this industry.
From my experience, each woman can indeed achieve her goals. However, you must remain determined and patient. Changes that are coming to light will take time to be fully implemented, but you must continue to believe in your ambitions and dreams.
Sophie Le Ray, CEO of liquid growth market experts Naseba, is the founder of the WIL Economic Forum, which takes place for in Saudi Arabia the first time on March 19-20. Here are five reasons women should attend:
1. Its engaging conference sessions, keynotes, workshops and facilitated networking sessions provide an opportunity for all to hear from Saudi Arabia’s brightest minds, as well as international speakers who can add value to discussions in the region.
2. We have seen regional governments setting up strategic visions in to build sustainable economies for a post-oil era, and WIL encourages a diverse workforce, promoting the fact that the answer lies in diversified economies. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality could contribute $12 trillion to global growth by 2025. Diversity is good for business.
3. WIL supports Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030, which aims to lower unemployment among the country’s youth, who make up 70 percent of the population and are aged 30 or younger. Young Saudis are the least likely to find employment in the private sector. The forum helps facilitate meaningful discussions between the private and public sector to also understand how we can achieve this together.
4. We are seeing an increase in women taking leadership roles across both private and public sector, with the GCC having some of the highest rates of women graduates in the world, but many of these women do not go on to have a career in their field of study. WIL addresses barriers preventing women from entering the workforce in the first place and discusses ways to eliminate them.
5. It has already achieved results and brought about great progress so far. Growing the footprint of WIL has been a major achievement. The journey to women’s economic empowerment has come a long way in this region and the forum is honoured to have facilitated progress in this space. Having seen the benefits the series brings to individuals, businesses and entrepreneurs, we will always look to new frontiers. We have high hopes for the future.
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