Saudi oil chief seeks empowerment of women going beyond driving

By Annmarie Hordern and James Herron on 3/8/2018

LONDON (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia is striving to achieve real female empowerment, especially in the workplace, going beyond recent changes that allowed women to drive cars for the first time, said the country’s energy minister.

"We need to recognize that driving is a superficial activity, not the real empowerment we strive for in Saudi Arabia,” Khalid Al-Falih said in a Bloomberg television interview in London. More women than men study subjects from medicine to engineering in the kingdom’s higher education system and “the next phase will be to make sure the workplace is ready for these graduates and supportive of their careers."

The man who oversees the largest oil industry in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries was in London to promote investment that could underpin Vision 2030 -- an ambitious program to transform the kingdom’s economy. The reforms also include significant social changes, and whether by chance or design the Saudi event coincided with International Women’s Day.

So could a Saudi woman ever become the chief executive officer of Aramco -- the giant state oil company that’s planning one of the largest initial public offerings in history?

"I have three girls, I hope one of them will have an opportunity to run a big institution in the kingdom,” Al-Falih said. “Hopefully by the time they’re ready there will be bigger institutions than Aramco.”

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