Meet the man helping Saudi women find jobs

There was a time when working women in Saudi was just a myth. Khalid Alkhudair and his start-up, Glowork, is changing that perception. 

Meryl D'Souza September 19, 2016

The plight of women in Saudi Arabia has been well documented over the years. As recently as last year, the World Economic Forum ranked Saudi Arabia at 134 out of 145 countries in its Global Gender Gap Index.

It wasn’t until December 2015 that Saudi women finally got the right to vote and run for office—and even then only in municipal elections. Despite the many restrictions on Saudi women, the one that gets the most attention is the ban against women drivers. Although there isn’t a law that bans women from driving, it is banned in practice because women are not able to obtain driving licences.

It’s not rocket science to note that those constraints have a cumulative effect on the bigger picture for Saudi. According to the United Nations, 52 per cent of university graduates in Saudi Arabia are women but the segregation laws and historical precedents often prevent the Kingdom’s abundance of educated females from finding jobs.

Khalid Alkhudair hadn’t seen the bigger picture but took note of the problem when it happened to him and his sister. “As a male, I had a huge problem finding a job when I came back to Saudi after graduating and my sister had an even bigger issue finding an opportunity,” he told Forbes. “And she’s smarter than I am.”

That incident was the catalyst that gave Alkhudair the courage to stand up against the system. He bided his time, and by 2011 he quit his position as the chief operations officer at KPMG for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Jordan, to set up Glowork, a website to help Saudi women find jobs.

You only have to imagine the backlash, first from his family and then from the Saudi community. At one point, the man received threats in the form of emails and phone calls, but he paid them no heed. It would take more than that to scare the Baghdad-born entrepreneur.

In time, women began working as cashiers in stores, but Alkhudair and his Glowork team worked diligently to find a way for women to work from home. That move struck a chord with the government. It’s worth noting that at that time, the government would spend about 2.4 billion Saudi riyal on unemployment benefits. Glowork’s initiative was helping the country build itself.

Soon, the Saudi Ministry of Labour, under the rule of the late King Abdullah, approached Alkhudair for advice on legislation related to women working in the retail sector and even gave Glowork access to its unemployment data, including 1.6 million CVs, 1.2 million of which were from women.

That form of intel has proved pivotal for Alkhudair and his expansions plans for his brainchild, Glowork. In February this year, the 33-year-old launched the Glowork app – a female-only recruitment app developed to help connect women to job opportunities in the private sector – to work in tandem with the company’s existing website.

Alkhudair’s efforts are being rewarded. Apart from the partnership with the Ministry of Labour where Glowork is compensated with SR 2,800 for each woman placed in a role and the $16-million investment from SAS Holding, the number of employed Saudi women has risen by 48 per cent since 2010, more than double the rate for men, according to the kingdom’s Central Department of Statistics and Information.

It’s still a long fight – according to last year’s statistics from the Central Department of Statistics and Information, Saudi women occupy only 13 per cent of private and public positions occupied by nationals – but someone has to keep fighting. Thankfully Alkhudair is.