Samar Al Amro, Director of Corporate Services & Sustainability at Accenture Middle East has been featured as one of Communicate's Women to Watch for 2023.
Can you share with us your journey and how you entered the technology and public sectors in Saudi Arabia?
During the first 13 years of my career, I worked in the public sector as a government employee. In 2010, I made a significant career shift by joining SAP Middle East, where I played a key role in establishing the Saudi branch. This experience allowed me to expand my knowledge and expertise in the technology and digital sector. In 2018, I further advanced my career by transitioning to a leadership role with Accenture, marking another significant milestone in my professional journey.
What motivated you to pursue a career in these fields, and what challenges did you face along the way?
It was a new era of transformation in the Saudi job market, and it was not very common to leave a government job to join a private company. However, I was seeking new opportunities for learning and wanted to explore how I could grow my career in a new field. Personally, it was quite challenging for me to enter a new organization and take on a completely unfamiliar role. Nevertheless, I viewed it as the best motivation to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone. I believed it was the right time to make the transition to the private sector, and I embraced the change with enthusiasm.
As a woman in Saudi Arabia, what specific barriers or obstacles did you encounter in your professional journey, and how did you overcome them?
As I mentioned, being in the private sector, especially as a woman, was not very common at that time. On several occasions, I was informed that I was the first Saudi woman to enter certain entities or ministries. However, I did not see this as a barrier; instead, I viewed it as an opportunity. Looking back, I realize that the types of jobs accepted by Saudi society were very limited during that period. The education and medical sectors were not very popular, and there were limited job opportunities for women in the banking industry. This motivated me even more to venture into a completely new field: private sector digital and technology client engagement. While social barriers, or what I would call cultural barriers, were always present, with the support of my husband and extended family, I was able to overcome those challenges.
Can you highlight some of your significant achievements in the technology and public affairs sectors that you are most proud of?
I have been fortunate to achieve several significant milestones in my career. Since 2018, I have been leading the Corporate Function & Sustainability division at Accenture Middle East, making me the first Saudi female in a leadership position in the company. Additionally, I had the honour to become a part of the inaugural cohort of the INSEAD Saudi Digital Academy Digital Leadership Program, which was hosted by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology of Saudi Arabia. Another project I led was the setting up and development of the Expo2020 hospitality lounge. On a personal level, I take immense pride in being a mother to three amazing children. My daughter who graduated from Prince Sultan University Business School - is now working with a semi-government entity. Recently, she also became a mother herself. I also have twin sons, who are incredibly talented and passionate choreographers of contemporary dance. They often collaborate with the Ministry of Culture as well and it brings me great joy to see them pursuing their artistic aspirations.
How do you balance your role as Director of Corporate Services and Sustainability with your personal life and responsibilities?
If you love what you do as your job, finding the right balance comes naturally. Additionally, I have been fortunate to have the support of my family, which has played a crucial role in shaping my journey. I am grateful for the collective circumstances that have led me to where I am today. Moreover, I find joy in how my current role influences my personal choices. Through the diverse areas I engage with, such as environment and sustainability, leading people, and fostering human connections within my team, social responsibility, ethical compliance, information security and data privacy, I am constantly learning and gaining insights that influence my personal decisions in a meaningful way.
What role do you believe women play in shaping the technology and public affairs sectors in Saudi Arabia?
Women in Saudi Arabia are making significant strides in contributing to the country’s GDP. According to a report published on Arab News, female workforce participation reached 33.6% in the first quarter of 2022. This increase in women’s participation in the workforce is driving economic growth across various sectors. Saudi women are making their mark in fields ranging from aviation to banking. Their entry into traditionally male-dominated industries is transforming the economy and paving the way for further progress and empowerment. These developments demonstrate the growing role and influence of women in shaping Saudi Arabia’s economic landscape.
Have you experienced any specific instances of gender bias or inequality in your career, and how did you address them?
In the earlier years of my career, I focused on personal growth and put all my energy into acquiring the necessary skills to progress to higher levels. I was not solely seeking equality but rather striving for more opportunities. Patience was a virtue during that time, as I dedicated myself to learning and honing my abilities. Now, with 25 years of experience under my belt, I want to actively advocate for gender equality. I firmly stand against any biased behaviors and am vocal in addressing them directly, ensuring a fair and inclusive environment for myself and all women in my sphere of influence.
In your opinion, what are the key skills or qualities that have helped you succeed in your career?
I have always believed in being true to myself, and what you see is indeed what you get with me. This transparency has made it easier for others to interact and engage with me. Furthermore, my main strengths lie in agility and flexibility. I’ve always embraced change and remained open to new opportunities that come my way. Additionally, based on my Gallup assessment [a performance-based assessment tool], I possess qualities of being a relator, achiever, responsible and also having self-assurance. My assessment shows that I’m always aiming to maximize my potential. These attributes have shaped my approach to work and personal endeavors, contributing to my overall effectiveness and success.
As a leader in your field, what advice would you give to aspiring women who want to excel in the technology and public affairs sectors?
One motivational quote by Richard Branson has deeply resonated with me: “If someone offers you an amazing opportunity, and you are not sure you can do it, say yes, then learn how to do it later.” This quote serves as valuable advice, particularly for women. I urge all women not to be afraid of venturing into new sectors or pursuing different career paths. Embracing new jobs and studying diverse majors are pivotal steps toward growth and gaining valuable experience. It is through trying and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zones that we truly learn and excel. Remember, the only way to expand our horizons and evolve is by daring to explore the unknown.
How do you envision the future of these sectors in Saudi Arabia, particularly in terms of opportunities and advancements for women?
Opportunities abound for those who possess the courage to pursue them. Saudi women now have the freedom to enter any sector of their choice, thereby playing a crucial role in driving economic growth. From aviation to banking, military to the public sector, women have the liberty to contribute their talents and expertise in diverse fields. This newfound inclusivity marks a significant stride towards empowering women and unleashing their full potential in shaping Saudi Arabia’s future.
This piece was first published in Communicate's Women to Watch Issue 2023.