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For Lulwa, juggling a full-time job and study while raising her nine-year-old son is tough. But having a supportive family means she can balance her commitments and continue to forge a successful career in Saudi Arabia. The former private banker is now Senior Learning Manager for Saudi British Bank (SABB), where she manages the learning team and offers personal development and customised training to staff. Becoming a career woman has given Lulwa a passion for helping other Saudi women in business, by supporting efforts to provide job opportunities and empowering them. She was instrumental in organising Boost Your Career – a networking event for businesswomen – and is a member of Cella Network, the first professional network for women In Saudi Arabia.
I’d been in banking for 11 years and I’d worked my way up to senior role in the industry. At that point, I felt it was time to gain some more business experience. I chose to do an Executive MBA at London Business School in Dubai, as it has a reputation for providing programmes that offer the business insights and expertise needed to further your career. The School’s Executive MBA programme has some of the best, most experienced faculty, and it attracts students from all over the world. Another big attraction is that it fits in perfectly with my commitments; I travel from Saudi to Dubai every three weeks to study for five days at a time, which allows me to continue working and look after my son.
I started the EMBA programme last September and I’m now doing the core courses, which focus on business and management. The programme, which I’ll finish in 2016, is teaching me key business skills, giving me the knowledge needed to provide more strategic insight at work and helping me build a new network with my cohort.
Since joining the programme, I’ve gained a better understanding of how business at a senior level works and the strategic approach needed in a top management position. I now have a broader business perspective and greater understanding of which direction Saudi’s banking industry is heading.
One of the great things about being on this programme is having the opportunity to spend time with international peers and colleagues, which is an education in itself. The programme allows you to spend time with people from around the world and share different perspectives on business and life in general. You also see yourself through their eyes and discover who you really are – it’s a lifetime experience.
Among the people I met on the programme, there were two in particular that I really related to: Heather McGregor and Olga Bulatova. Heather is an entrepreneur (Managing Director of global recruitment firm Taylor Bennett), London Business School alumna, writer and columnist for national media, mother and aviation enthusiast who flies planes in her spare time. Her career is proof that someone can handle several responsibilities and be more productive, by setting clear goals and managing their time efficiently.
I met Olga when I was on an assignment in Moscow. Olga is an EY partner and head of the firm’s Academy of Business (which provides education and training services to business professionals in the CIS and Europe). She talked to us about helping establish the initiative during the recent financial crisis, and how the Academy developed 3,000 EY staff in the region over that period. Coming from a learning and talent background, it was interesting for me to see how other academies and training centre leaders run their business and achieve success in tough times.
The trend in Saudi Arabia is to advance employment for women and focus national policies on including them in the workforce. In 2006, 57% of Saudi Arabia’s university graduates were women; while the rising level of education is a major factor in encouraging them to take up employment, the number of working women in Saudi is only 12%. This rate is projected to increase significantly as women replace expat workers in the Kingdom.
However, one issue is that women in the region reach middle management and then get stuck there, so you need to take control of your career and decide what you want to achieve. That’s what I did; I decided to study for an EMBA to expand my strategic, financial and leadership skills and achieve my goals. SABB is one of the leading banks for employing Saudi women, whose goal is to provide equal opportunities and encourage females to assume senior roles by offering them opportunities to join learning and development programmes. There are three women in senior positions at SABB, which is fantastic.
I’m ambitious and I see myself taking higher roles within the organisation. I also want to run my own business; I have experience in organising and managing events and I’m excited about getting the right people together in a room. The Executive MBA has already given me a greater knowledge of business and marketing strategy, networking, management and leadership, as well as ideas about how to launch my venture and the tools I need to make it a success.