Gulf Region Organization for Women (GROW) Conference

Remarks by Amin H. Nasser, Saudi Aramco President & CEO

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, as-salaam-alaikum, and good morning.

I know some of you have travelled a great distance to be with us today, and let me welcome you to Dhahran. 

I am delighted to join you this morning in what I believe is one of the most important conversations we could be having in 2018: how we grow the contribution of the Region’s women.

Before I go any further, let me commend you on what the GROW network has become in just three short years. 

Back in 2015, GROW was little more than an idea. With only five founding companies at launch, today more than 25 organizations are represented with a critical mass of talent building. And I know this group is poised to have an even bigger impact in the years ahead … which I will speak about in a moment.

First, ladies and gentlemen, let me begin this morning with a question.

How many of you remember what you were doing on the morning of June 24? I know that many Saudi women will recall that day very well, as they joyously took to the Kingdom’s streets as licensed drivers. As a father, son, and husband, this day made me – and millions of other Saudi men – very proud. 

But most of all, as a CEO, June 24 inspired me … about our nation’s future. 

Because that day was recognition of something we have for so long known as Saudi business leaders … that to mobilize our economy, we must first mobilize our workforce. 

And that means all of our workforce.

But to achieve the ambitious goals laid out in Vision 2030 and the National Transformation Program, women must not only be mobilized they must be energized – inspired by the real opportunity for growth and success in their chosen career. 

Here lies the work for all of us.

But for each industry the paths are different. 

And as the CEO of Saudi Aramco, I will naturally focus first on the challenges in our way.

We face a challenge in the talent pipeline. 

Women have low representation in the STEM disciplines our industry relies on. We face a challenge in perception. With women representing 20-percent of employees in the world’s petroleum industry, it is not one that women instinctively feel is for them.

And if women do choose this industry, they often face an un-level playing field that limits career progression. 

Clearly, we must do more.

A recent World Economic Forum report even concluded that the drive for gender parity – specifically economic participation – shifted into reverse in 2017, for the first time since they began measuring it. 

The Forum report predicts that in the MENA region alone, the overall gender gap will take 157 years to close.

Ladies and gentlemen, we must reverse this trend!

And we must start with our own companies and organizations. 

To begin with, a two-fold strategy is required.

First, outreach and targeted hiring.

Competition is exceedingly tough for qualified female talent. 

This is why Saudi Aramco has been investing in tailored outreach programs for many years, to help women compete before they enter the workplace.

  • Our STEM Program, for instance, has engaged more than 2,000 elementary and intermediate school-age girls, fueling their passion for STEM-related fields. 
  • We currently sponsor nearly 300 Saudi females pursuing degrees in STEM disciplines and other majors around the world.

We have also partnered with others to create several new national training institutes which will improve the quality of professional and vocational training in the Kingdom.

  • We have worked with GE and Tata Consultancy to create the first all-female Business Process Services Center in Riyadh… and with Wipro and Princess Noura University to help bring Saudi Arabia’s first Women’s Business Park to life.
  • We are a founding partner in the National Information Technology Academy, which is graduating this month its first cohort of females in cloud-computing.
  • I can also announce today that we will launch, by year-end, a dedicated female vocational/technical academy offering programs in specialized IT fields, logistics, business and financial services, and much more … including a state-of-the-art program in cyber-security.  And this is a field where I expect to see a true female dominance in the years ahead.
  • And let me also stress that Saudi Aramco’s localization program, iktva, offers a great opportunity for us to work together on female empowerment. 

It is clear that our investment in outreach and targeted hiring is beginning to bear fruit.

At Saudi Aramco, we have increased female recruitment to more than 20% of all our new hires and we have doubled the number of women working in our organization over the past 10 years. 

But our efforts must extend well beyond hiring.

This is why the second track in our strategy is the “post-hire” support of career development. 

And I want to commend the work done by Saudi Aramco’s Women Development and Diversity Division for supporting inclusivity and female advancement through a wide range of programs.

Our mentorship program, for instance, now stands as one of our most highly sought-after programs.

Other programs, like Women in Business, Emerging Women in Leadership, and Women in Leadership have engaged more than half of our female workforce to-date, from those early in their careers to more seasoned leaders facing different challenges.

I should also mention that in April we appointed our first female Board member, Lynn Elsenhans. 

As the former Chair and CEO of the U.S. downstream company Sunoco, Lynn brings a wealth of insight and experience and will be a tremendous asset to the Board.

Ultimately, more than any one policy or program, success requires us to work together. 

This is where I believe GROW has a real opportunity to make a difference. 

But it will not come easy.

My colleagues know that I always say that “a forum or conference without deliverables is simply a networking opportunity!”

So I challenge you to do more than “network”.

Push yourselves in terms of targets, expectations and deliverables – for the group as a whole, and for its member organizations. 

For instance, in GROW’s first three years, you enlisted more than 25 organizations. 

Why not aim to enlist another 25 by this time next year? 

And not just organizations but bring in change-makers.

The details are yours to decide. 

But only by setting measurable targets – even if they are “stretch goals” – will you unleash the true potential of this important initiative. 

You are off to a great start – now it’s time to take it to the next level.

Ladies and gentlemen, I began my remarks this morning by recalling the power and promise of June 24. 

So let me close by talking about its challenge … to all of us.

While a license to drive is a crucial step toward narrowing the gender gap in the Kingdom … as business, industry and academic leaders we will not fully succeed until we have empowered each woman with a license to dream.

A license to achieve.

A license to be a vital, active and equal part of a workforce where she can make her career ambitions a reality. 

When we look at the challenges ahead, we understand the journey has only just begun.

And this is why you will never hear me say “we have done all we can do.” 

Because I know that my successor … and even the CEO after that … will still be working to close the gender gap at Saudi Aramco.

And who knows … maybe SHE will be successful!

Looking out across this room … seeing the energy and talent this group brings … I know that if we work together, we can succeed. 

Thank you, and I wish you an inspiring and productive conference.