Returnship programmes are highly valued by 83% of Saudi women as they offer a structured pathway for their successful reintegration into the workforce.

The survey shows 52% of Saudi women have had their resumes rejected due to gaps in their careers

 85% of Saudi women believe they can reach senior-level roles in their organisations

Riyadh, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: Women professionals returning to the workforce in Saudi Arabia face considerable challenges, such as being 'mommy tracked' or having their resumes rejected due to career gaps. These findings are part of a report titled "Navigating the path back: Women returners in KSA".

The report surveyed more than 1,200 women in countries like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Egypt, Bahrain, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, and Oman and features critical perspectives from leading regional CEOs.

Key findings of the survey have also indicated that 52% of Saudi women have had their resumes rejected due to gaps in their careers, while more than 83% of Saudi women consider returnship programmes that offer a structured pathway for re-entry, including training and tailored support, to be essential for their successful reintegration into the workforce.

The report, the first in the 'The case for diversity' series, explores the challenges that women in Saudi Arabia face when trying to return to work after taking a career break. More than half (55%) of the women surveyed in Saudi Arabia had taken career breaks, higher than the 44% of their peers in the MENA region. But only 40% of Saudi women were likely to return to work after a break, lower than the regional average of 43%.

The study further found the desire for financial independence to be a key incentive for women returners to the workforce in Saudi Arabia (42%) compared to their peers in the MENA region (38%).

The majority (67%) of the surveyed women in Saudi Arabia who took career breaks were in experienced, senior management and C-level roles, with caregiving responsibilities among the key reasons prompting these breaks.

However, unlike in the rest of the MENA region, women in Saudi Arabia also considered caring for their own mental or physical wellbeing among the top three reasons for taking a break.

There is considerable stigma associated with career gaps in Saudi Arabia and this has emerged as a prominent hurdle for women. While many women are ambitious and aspire to return to work following breaks, more than half (60%) believe taking a break from work can negatively impact their careers.

“Saudi Arabia’s female labour force has more than doubled to 36% between 2017 and 2023, and maintaining this trajectory is essential to fulfilling the goals of the National Transformation agenda,” said Riyadh Al Najjar, PwC Middle East Chairman of the Board & Saudi Country Senior Partner, PwC Middle East. “Saudi women represent an untapped pool of talent that can contribute to the Kingdom’s diversified socioeconomic growth and development. Employers should adopt inclusive workplace practices, including alternative work models, to reintegrate women in the workforce, and exploit the full potential of this experienced and underutilised talent pool to build a more prosperous future for all.”

Norma Taki, Middle East Inclusion & Diversity Leader, Transaction Services Partner and Consumer Markets Leader at PwC Middle East, added: “Saudi businesses must create a culture where women feel secure in taking breaks when necessary, and where they are encouraged to make positive, impactful contributions without stigma upon their return.”

“Our findings show that offering alternative work models and enhanced childcare benefits can significantly ease women’s return to the workforce. In fact, our findings show women returning to the workforce after a career break could contribute US$385 billion to the MENA region. Saudi employers that invest in returnship programmes to create more inclusive workplaces will ultimately have access to a highly-motivated and experienced talent pool that are eager to make their mark on the workforce.”

Explore the full report here

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