Rana Zumai is helping Saudi women shatter stereotypes in business

The future looks bright for the kingdom's women leaders in banking and finance, says the head of corporate communications at Nesma Holding

Rana Zumai at the Nesma Holding offices in Jeddah.
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As Saudi Arabia marks its 91st National Day, ‘The National’ sits down with pioneering Saudis to talk about the changing face of the kingdom.

From helping to create jobs for women in rural areas over the past decade, Rana Zumai is now a consultant for SMEs and corporate communications head at Nesma Holding, one of Saudi Arabia's biggest private companies involved in the sectors of energy, oil and gas, construction, entertainment, real estate, hospitality, tourism, telecom and IT.

She believes Saudi women have already passed the point where they need to prove themselves in the workplace and thinks it is time to see Saudi women leading in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as internationally.

“We are past proving ourselves. We have seen Saudi women achieve great things. We are now at a stage where we need to create something unique and make an impact with the empowerment we are given for our country and for expatriates living in the kingdom,” she told The National in an interview to talk about major changes in the kingdom before Saudi National Day on September 23.

She credits Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030 for helping women to shatter stereotypes and glass ceilings and for helping to create more opportunities and accelerate the pace of change for women in the corporate world.

“I work with many start-ups by women and I admire the diversity and their belief that there are no limitations,” she said, adding that the future looks bright for Saudi women in the banking and finance sectors.

Vision 2030, announced in 2016, states that a successful and progressive nation must encourage and empower all members of society, including women, and therefore reviewed its civil and labour laws and regulations that influence the ability of women to travel, work and participate in society.

In 2019, women over the age of 21 were granted the right to obtain a passport and travel without their male guardian's permission. The retirement age was raised to 60, to be level with men, and women were given more leadership roles and increased protection from employment discrimination.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman aims to increase women's participation from 22 to 30 per cent by 2030.

An estimated 48,000 Saudi women entered the workforce in 2018, an 8.8 per cent increase from the previous year, marking the highest number of women employed in the country's history.

“The vision has paved the way for women to follow their dreams and ambitions like never before,” she said.

“I started my career in the communication department at Nesma just three years ago. I would love to reach new heights by creating new areas of communication.

“I believe human communication is more effective than technical communication. The former has the power to make political strides, create partnerships between entities and forge long-term and successful relationships between humans.”

Prior to corporate communication, Rana worked in the non-profit organisation Nesma Embroidery, where she helped create social value-added opportunities for the company for seven years.

She played a role in creating job opportunities, focusing on improving socio-economic conditions for women living in rural areas.

“Nesma gave me an opportunity to work with Saudi women in rural areas and empowered me in leadership positions, to expand our business and factories across the kingdom,” she said.

“But it really helped me for my role today as I was part of human development, culture, economical development in textile and other areas. The experience gave me the education and advanced communication skills. I was able to learn key elements and strengthen areas like the dignity of labour, by giving our women advanced titles and roles.”

She said the new school of thought is that corporate social responsibility should be changed to CSV - community shared values.

“I think this is how we should look at it. We should start this education at an early level at schools in the kingdom,” she said.

Even after all she has done to help Saudi women in business, Rana said her biggest achievement is being a mother.

“I have a son who's 17 who wants to go into the petroleum and energy sector,” she said. “My 12-year-old girl is in school and she's a creative artist and my youngest one is six years old and is a dancer who wants to be in the Olympics. I support them all to pursue and I enjoy empowering them so that they achieve their dreams.”

Rana wants to be a role model for Saudi women who represent culture, religion, trust, humility, and integrity. She wants Saudi women to “dream big and remember there are no limitations”. “I want to continue giving back to my country," she said.

Updated: September 22, 2021, 8:24 AM