Saudi Arabia’s lifting of a ban on women driving is expected to open up new job opportunities including higher paying roles for the kingdom’s female workforce, according to a new survey.
Recruitment firm GulfTalent said being able to drive would significantly enhance women’s career progression by giving them the mobility required for managerial roles and removing logistical barriers.
Respondents to its survey of 400 Saudi women, conducted in June, told the company that roles in sales, construction and other industries requiring travel within or outside the country to other offices would now be open to women.
“Being able to drive will make me eligible for the position of project manager – as the role needs constantly moving between the office and project sites to supervise work,” Mai a project engineer from Jeddah told the firm.
In its survey, the company found that 65 per cent of working Saudi women prior to the ban were relying on a family driver for transport, 26 per cent on transport services Uber and Careem, 8 per cent on a family member and 1 per cent were provided with company transport.
After the lifting of the ban on Sunday, June 24, with many women taking to the roads at midnight in celebration, these figures are expected to change dramatically.
GulfTalent said 28 per cent of respondents planned to drive immediately, 54 per cent in a few months, 12 per cent were still not decided and 6 per cent would not drive.
More broadly, GulfTalent said driving would lead to a wave of employed women moving to better matching and more lucrative work.
Many of the respondents to its survey said they previously had to accept jobs with lower pay than their qualifications merited or that did not meet their interests because of transport issues.
In addition, those in smaller towns who were previously unable to work due to travel constraints will now have new employment opportunities open to them.
“Now I can commute for work to other cities without fear of sitting in a car with a man that I don’t know and am unrelated to,” survey respondent Lena, who lives near Riyadh, said.
On top of bringing women to the workplace, ride hailing companies Uber and Careem also see driving as an earnings opportunity.
Both have announced plans to hire tens of thousands of female drivers, with Uber stating on Saturday it intended to test a new feature from the Autumn that will allow female drivers who work for the platform to set a preference for women customers.
However, the lifting of the ban may not be all good news for workers in the kingdom.
Allowing women to drive is expected to lead to a sharp fall in demand for foreign drivers, who would traditionally be hired by families to transport women and children.
Just how many driver jobs will be affected is expected to depend upon the number of Saudi women that obtain a licence.
Professional services firm PwC said in a March report that just 20 per cent of women in the kingdom are expected to drive by 2020.
In contrast, market research firm Kantar TNS said 82 per cent of women were contemplating getting a licence when asked in a survey it released in October.
Another survey conducted by Uber and Ipsos found 78 per cent of respondents were likely to get a driving licence after the ban was lifted and 31 per cent were interested in driving as an earnings opportunity.
This willingness may not immediately translate into more cars on the road, amid reports of high prices for lessons and a lack of institutions.
Reports in April suggested women will have to pay up to six times more than men to obtain their driving licence and many of the driving schools recently established in major cities are fully booked for months.
Even if they can’t get behind the wheel right away though, the lifting of the ban is expected to help the Saudi government in its Vision 2030 objective of increasing women’s participation in the workforce from 22 per cent to 30 per cent.