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Empowering Women One Job at a Time

Below is a preview of an article published in the September 15, 2015, issue of Fortune magazine on the occasion of Lubna Olayan being listed at number 16 on their list of Europe, Middle East, and Africa Most Powerful Women List

To access the full article please click here.


This CEO is Helping Saudi Women Break A Gender Barrier

by Erika Fry 

SEPTEMBER 14, 2015

Lubna Olayan was once the only woman at a 4,000-employee company; now she’s helping hundreds of Saudi women enter the workforce for the first time.

In 1983, Lubna Olayan became the first woman to work for her father’s business—Olayan Financing Co. (OFC), a sprawling multinational conglomerate based in Saudi Arabia.

It would be 18 years before she got her first female colleague.

By then Olayan was running the company, and she’d had time to consider her singularity. “I was privileged to be a woman CEO of a large family business,” she says. “I recognized there is something wrong with this—I can’t be the only woman.”

With her family’s support, Olayan began a quiet, measured effort to expand the ranks—consulting colleagues and embarking on at least one stealth persuasion campaign to win over an especially resistant OFC partner. After months of careful planning, woman No. 2 was finally brought onboard.

That the arrival took so long reflects the difficulty of making changes in a profoundly conservative country where tradition had long kept women out of the workforce almost entirely. But the fact that OFC now employs some 400 Saudi women—including 56 who bustle alongside Olayan and their male colleagues in the Riyadh head office—shows how far the company and Saudi society have come since then in bringing women greater economic power...