Saudi Basic Industries Corporation (SABIC) hired 13 women for the first time since it was established in 1976, al-Watan daily reported on Thursday. SABIC is the largest publicly listed company in Saudi Arabia, but 70 percent of its shares continue to be owned by the government.
While SABIC employs women in its ventures outside Saudi Arabia, the company has been criticized for excluding women from its workforce in the kingdom. For comparison, state-owned oil giant Aramco has been employing Saudi women for decades.
But unlike Aramco where both genders share the same offices, it appears that women will be segregated from men at SABIC.
An unnamed source at the petrochemicals company told the newspaper that the 13 women hired to work at the headquarters in Riyadh will have a work environment that respects “society’s values, as their independence has been taken into account,” he said. “Communication with them will be via the Internet and telephone, as well as electronic work system.”
The newly hired women will work in the departments of management, finance and information technology, the source said.
Saudi Arabia has an overall unemployment rate of 12 percent, and the numbers of unemployed young people is especially high among women. By the end of last year, women unemployment reached 36 percent according to official numbers.
The government has pushed in recent years to encourage more women to join the workforce by limiting some jobs to women in places like lingerie and cosmetics shops. That push faced resistance from religious conservatives who warned that mixing of genders at the workplace would lead to the Westernization of society.
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