Your Excellency, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen, good morning.
It is a pleasure to join you as part of the International Women’s Day celebrations happening around the world this week.
I am pleased to see so many of our key partners represented today. Collectively, I am confident we can make a difference when it comes to diversity.
As the CEO of Saudi Aramco, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the many talented and capable women from Aramco who are here. Thank you for everything that you do for our Company. Each and every day you bring a solid work ethic and valuable skills to your respective jobs and Saudi Aramco is better because of you.
Also, as the father of two daughters who are relatively new to the workforce, I need to thank all the women here today. Thank you for the inspiration you provide to young women in the Kingdom.
Now, as we celebrate International Women’s Day, I know there are people here who are less than satisfied with the pace of progress for women in the workplace.
I can understand why.
I am not satisfied either.
The energy sector as a whole is in need of a better gender balance.
The recent 2019 Global Energy Talent Index Report goes so far as to declare that there is a “chronic shortage” of women in our industry.
Personally, I am also not satisfied with the current percentage of females in Saudi Aramco.
The Company is considered a pioneer for women in the workplace in the Kingdom, but we still need to make more progress.
That said, I am optimistic that there is a bright future ahead for females in the oil and gas industry in general and at Saudi Aramco in particular.
I am optimistic because what was once largely seen as being impossible, is proving to be possible.
At Aramco, we now have female petroleum engineers working out in the field and in plants, providing solutions to complicated production challenges.
We have female scientists in our R&D centers conducting potentially future-transforming research on everything from storing CO2 in cement to directly converting crude oil to chemicals in just one single step.
We have female inventors coming up with revolutionary new processes and products. And at last count, women working at Saudi Aramco have filed more than 180 patents in recent years.
We have female traders selling our oil and refined petroleum products to customers around the world.
We even have internationally certified female firefighters – the first in the Kingdom – women who, in addition to being engineers, have completed the rigorous training necessary to qualify as professional firefighters.
We also have a female board member as well as female managers and General Managers serving in various leadership positions across the company.
But, I am going to be honest with you. While Saudi Aramco has made solid progress in the last couple of years, we still have a lot of work to do.
And that is why we are recruiting more talented and qualified females than ever before. In 2018, we hired twice as many females as we did in 2017 and more than half of these new female hires last year were in STEM-related roles.
I have no doubt that this positive trend will result in a substantial transformation of our workforce. Going forward, we will see more women holding more roles at all levels at Saudi Aramco.
I also firmly believe that advancements in Artificial Intelligence and other areas of technology will open up multiple doors of opportunity for women in the workforce.
For example, I fully expect to see women play a key role in fields like cyber-security in the years ahead.
To anyone who might doubt the ability of women to excel in such specialized IT roles, I have two words: Hajj Hackathon.
Saudi Aramco was a sponsor of this hackathon event last July in Jeddah. And the winners – who beat out some 3,000 other participants from around the world – were an all-female team from Saudi Arabia.
Clearly, there has been progress in the energy industry and also elsewhere in the Kingdom. The recent appointment of the first-ever female Saudi Ambassador should create even more momentum and provide further inspiration.
What is also clear, however, is that it will not be easy moving the diversity needle further along – from impossible, to possible, all the way to commonplace.
For the oil and gas sector as a whole, a critical challenge is overcoming the misperception that the industry is a dead-end career for women. As the Global Energy Talent Index Report also notes: attracting more women to jobs in the energy sector is an obvious way to address the skills gap facing our industry.
For companies in general, the challenge will be to find ways to better balance the gender diversity within the talent pipeline. Saudi Aramco, for its part, is actively encouraging young women to enter the STEM educational stream and we are currently sponsoring some 300 females who are pursuing STEM-related degrees.
We are also working to promote gender diversity beyond Saudi Aramco through organizations like GROW, through initiatives such as the country’s first Women’s Business Park and through partnerships like the one we have with GE and Tata that created the first all-female Business Process Service Center in Riyadh.
As for people in leadership, the challenge ahead will be to continue to eliminate the barriers that hinder the ability of women to excel once they are in the workforce.
This includes providing both professional and personal support for women – everything from dedicated career advancement programs to expanding daycare services that make work-life balance better.
A key challenge for women, is not to get too discouraged by the pace of change.
In fact, let me conclude by speaking directly to the women in the audience on this very point.
Men, you are also welcome to listen along!
To the women here today, you are likely going to continue to encounter people at work who say to you: “just be patient”.
I want to be perfectly clear that I am not telling you to be patient.
Rather I am telling you to be prepared.
Be prepared for when more barriers come down in your workplace.
Be prepared for new job opportunities from new and evolving technology.
Also be prepared to compete for advancement on the basis of merit, as this will continue to be the foundation of any strong company.
And be prepared to mentor other women – and also men!
Be prepared to be a role model for those who will follow in your footsteps.
Ultimately, like the pioneering women who have come before you, be prepared to be persistent.
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