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Saudi woman breaks Aramco's glass ceiling, becomes top manager Open in fullscreen

Diana Alghoul

Saudi woman breaks Aramco's glass ceiling, becomes top manager

Hanan al-Ayyan is the first woman to become head of refineries at Aramco [Okaz]

Date of publication: 26 January, 2018

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Hanan al-Ayyan beat all obstacles and worked relentlessly to attain her position as head of refining, making her the first woman to tackle this senior post in the oil company.
A Saudi woman has broken institutionalised sexism in the Saudi oil industry, becoming the first woman to take the position of head of refining at the state oil giant Aramco.

Hanan al-Ayyan, who has worked at the company for over two decades, was initially rejected for a post in Aramco in 1995 while she was still studying, nevertheless she persisted. 

She tried to attain a student internship, but was told the positions had all been taken. And without the much needed inside connection, commonly known as a wasta, Hanan resorted to relentlessly attempting at convincing the recruitment department to take her on.

During her ten-week student programme, she worked hard to prove herself to her supervisors, in which she was offered a job three years later after she graduated.

Her story only began to upscale ever since. Determined to go far, she knew she knew her work ethic had to be exceptional to defy institutional sexism and competition in the workplace.

In one situation in which a cargo ship was stuck at a port for five days after customers refused to unload the cargo, she was a part of a team which worked for 48 hours on the unloading project, saving the company more than 1 million Saudi riyals ($260,660).

Eventually, Hanan, who by then had two children, continued her Masters degree while she was continuing to work her way up the company.

Her determination had inspired those around her: “Control your destiny”, Hanan said, according to local Saudi media.

“Don’t wait for anyone else to hand you your dream – if you want something, work hard for it.”

Reforming what must be transformed

This decision comes among what is seen as reforms targeting women’s rights in the kingdom. Last year, Saudi Arabia announced that it will eradicate the ban on women driving, which is due to come into effect in June.

Since then, token reformations have been taken into consideration as Riyadh looks to modernise its policies, such as allowing female football fans to enter a stadium for the first time earlier this month.

While the reforms have been met with excitement as Riyadh loosens its shackles on Saudi women, there are still criticisms that the Saudi government is not doing enough for women and continues to subject them to systematic sexism, which is not being questioned to the core.

There is also a consensus that the reforms are tokenising women to personalise Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a “modern reformist”.

UK based Saudi academic Madawi al-Rasheed described his reformations as disingenuous reforms that benefit him on the national and international stage.

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