Women take top roles in Saudi finance giants

FAYEZ NURELDINE | AFP | Getty Images

Women have secured top jobs at Saudi Arabia's stock exchange and one of its large national banks, giving hope that new strategic ambitions focused on women and the workforce may be bearing some fruit.

Monday's appointment of Rania Mahmoud Nashar as chief executive of Samba Financial Group follows last Thursday's announcement that Sarah Al Suhaimi had accepted the offer to chair Saudi Arabia's stock exchange.

Al Suhaimi will lead the board of the region's largest stock exchange by market capitalization while being expected to remain as CEO of NCB Capital, a position she assumed almost three years ago.

Meantime, Nashar's appointment follows a near-two-decade stint in the sector including time in various senior level positions within Samba itself.

The appointments are a significant milestone in a country that counts approximately a third of the female population as unemployed and still prevents women from driving altogether as well as travelling outside the country or marrying without male permission.

A broad and ambitious series of strategic initiatives were announced as part of the Vision 2030 plan that was launched in 2016 in a forward-looking attempt to restructure Saudi Arabia to prepare the country and its citizens for a time when oil will play a less influential role in its economic and social structure.

Such initiatives are designed to get female workforce participation up from 22 percent to 30 percent in the near future as well as less-specific goals of identifying ways to boost women's overall role in the economy.

While the news has particular resonance in Saudi Arabia, globally the prevalence of women in board positions remains extremely weak. According to Deloitte, women now hold 12 percent of board seats worldwide and chair a mere 4 percent.

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