Feedback from the Arabian Society for HR Management (ASHRM) conference 2012

I was kindly invited to attend the 11th International Conference and Exhibition from ASHRM (Arabian Society for Human Resource Management) that took place last week in Abu Dhabi.

It was my first time at that conference and I felt it was a different kind of conference to the ones I usually attend in the region. For one, it is accompanied by an exhibition hall where various providers to the HR community have booths. I saw representation from such varied companies as Hay, Franklin Covey, Saba, and LinkConsult (the only providers of in-person trainings towards World at Work certification programs – it was nice to see C&B highlighted through their presence), and more companies were represented.

The other reason I felt the conference was different, is that ASHRM has a distinct Saudi Arabia feel to it. Even though the Society has a GCC regional scope (with Chapters in Abu Dhabi and Oman), it is originally a Saudi organisation and a lot of  the delegates as well as speakers were from KSA.

I would like to especially point out the amazing Saudi ladies that I met, spoke with, or listened to during my attendance at the conference. They were outspoken, articulate, educated, excellent English speakers, open-minded, ambitious, with a nice sense of humour…. and had strong ideas about some of the social restrictions that the fair gender faces in the Kingdom. They were especially vocal about the harassment they say they face in the workplace, the lack of interest from companies to hire females, the restrictions to mobility (and therefore access to work) as they are not allowed to drive, the need to get a husband or father permission for them to work, the lack of opportunities, and the pressure and discouragement they face from male members of the family.

And mind you, the outcry is bubbling very close to the surface, as it did not even take any encouragement for these topics to be openly discussed, even by panel speakers and presenters in front of cameras and the full audience of a few hundred delegates. A majority of the audience were male Saudi and GCC Nationals – and a lot of them were nodding in agreement. It seems that society in Saudi Arabia is ready to move on to being more inclusive of the females social representation, at least in the workplace. Or maybe people who attend these conferences are more socially open than other segments of the population ? I don’t know for sure as I have never been to KSA – up until just a few years ago, as a single female I could not enter the Kingdom for a business trip without the presence of a male guardian…

Anyway, Saudi social and political life apart, I thought I would share a few facts or comments that I heard during the one day that I was able to attend, especially the afternoon session focused broadly on C&B and the subsequent panel debate. So there you are :

The World’s Most Admired Companies manage to pay a Total Fixed Cash 5% lower than their peers, thanks to :

  • Differentiating more based on performance
  • Giving line managers tools to use and communicate reward levers
  • Educating employees to appreciate the value of total reward
  • Tying a larger portion of the total reward to performance
  • Sourcing more candidates internally
  • Building more flexibility in reward to ensure a better fit to more employees.

Some statistics on the Saudi population :

  • 27 million Saudis + 8 million expats
  • Population growth rate 3.19% per year (massive)
  • 11.4% are less than 5 years old
  • 31.4% are less than 15 years old
  • 65% are less than 25 years old
  • 64% of the population is between the ages of 15 and 64.
  • Unemployment : men 6.9% – women 28.4% – total 10.5%
  • 78.3% of female university graduates are unemployed (it seems the claims from the Saudi ladies are supported by the numbers…)

There is a maternity leave with 3 years at 25% of salary called “infant care vacation” but very few ladies take it up. I have not had a chance to verify this information. But I know that in Europe, some countries like France offer a parental leave to either parent up to 3 years… without pay… but a significant number of parents take it up, especially in low income families (because infant care is more expensive than the woman’s salary in many cases) or in high income families (because either of the parents makes a choice to spend time with the child in its first years and they can afford that educational choice). But in both cases I’m sure they would love to be paid 25% of their salary to look after the child.

The gap between education being provided and skills requirement is taking a long time to be closed. Leadership (implied: of the nation) is required to set the direction.

All are aware that the pay gap between the public and private sector is not sustainable in the long-term. A speaker  from Kuwait mentioned that the government there gives subsidies for the private sector to hire Kuwaiti Nationals in order to encourage kuwaitisation targets. I think it’s a good idea that could be replicated in the other GCC countries, although maybe more difficult to implement in Saudi as it is a much larger country.

A speaker from Singapore pointed out that in his country, the only resource they have is their human capital. Their culture is based on meritocracy : they don’t give freebies from the government but give rewards for the “right” behaviour, for example through tax rebates for money you spend on specific actions. And he stated that in Asia there is a hunger for work, which is different culturally from the privileged society in the GCC.

This comment received a lot of supporting nods in the audience, and sparked some comments from other speakers on : what is a worthy job in the region ? How do we create those jobs ? How do we shift the mentality of the locals to understand that there are multiple layers/depths of jobs in the market (because not every Saudi or Emirati etc can be a leader or a manager). Generally speaking, there was consensus that the Gen Y entitlement mentality needs to change.

The panel also debated around the culture of accountability :

  • The region needs to learn to separate the personal relations and “wasta” from the work culture. Without it, it is not possible for a manager to have the tough conversations around performance, results, attendance etc – and it limits the possibilities for growth of the local employees as they don’t get pushed out of their comfort zone.
  • And if by law you can’t be sacked, you can’t really be held accountable. Ultimately this apparent protection of the national employees is actually hindering their development and that of the country.

Overall, the day I attended addressed a lot of the social and business issues of Saudi Arabia, but by extension to the rest of the GCC region too, except maybe to a lesser extent for the accessibility of females in the workplace.

I will cover the VIP opening breakfast presentation on pensions in the UAE in my next post.

If you attended the conference, please feel free to share the main points you noted from days 2 and 3 in the comments section !


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  1. It is very need full for every person.. Great right up. thanks for your great effort.


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