Getting to Know the Women of Saudi Arabia

Today was the first day of a four day workshop on Essential Business Skills that we are conducting at Dar Al-Hekma (DAH) College, a private women’s college in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. My teammates and I (Eve Alexander, Zeynep Boga, and Hind Chemsi) have been working hard over the past week to prepare the training materials for our sessions. These sessions will teach participants how to evaluate industries and new business opportunities, develop a marketing plan and conduct marketing research, manage projects effectively, and lead and motivate teams. Although we have been able to utilize many business principles and learning techniques from our first-year MBA courses, I have developed a strong appreciation for how challenging it can be to deliver content in an engaging and interactive way.

Many of the women attending the workshop do not have formal business training (although several have started their own businesses), but by the end of the first day, I was proud that they had conducted a SWOT analysis, brainstormed and clustered ideas using post-it notes, applied the 3C’s and 4P’s frameworks, and analyzed the attractiveness of starting a catering business in Jeddah using Porter’s Five Forces. It was strangely similar to our first year at Haas!

Outside of the college gates, women in Saudi Arabia must dress very conservatively because of Islamic law (and we must dress this way too while we’re here). They wear black abayas, which are black robes that cover their body from neck to toe, as well as hijabs, which are headscarves that cover their hair. Inside of the college, because we are only in the presence of women, we are able to see a different world. The minute the women walk through the gates, they emerge from their abayas and hijabs dressed beautifully and stylishly. The vibrant, diverse, and collaborative atmosphere inside the college is unlike anything I have experienced before. Dar Al-Hekma is a special place.

In addition to teaching, I am also learning quite a bit. Did you know that there is no official law that states that women cannot drive in Saudi Arabia? That Saudi women have cash savings of more than $12 billion that remain unused in Saudi bank accounts? Or that the milk industry in Saudi Arabia exhibits fierce competition? One of the most interesting things that came up today in conversation was the importance of handbags, shoes, and watches for women in Saudi Arabia. Since the women must wear abayas and hijabs in public, these accessories are some of the few ways in which they can express themselves.

It is hard to believe that our first week in-country is already over, but I am excited and intrigued by what the next two weeks will bring!

—Andrea

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