Entries in Workplace (2)


A City of Saudi Women: Segregation Setback or More Women in the Workplace?

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(EASTERN PROVINCE, Saudi Arabia) -- Separate has never meant equal in Saudi Arabia. Yet a new women-only development in Saudi’s Eastern Province is aimed at moving women forward, easing more women into the workplace.

The new industrial city is expected to create about 5,000 jobs in women-run factories and firms, The Guardian reported.  The developer released a statement, saying the site was equipped, "for women workers…consistent with the privacy of women according to Islamic guidelines and regulations."

Women and men are kept separate in the Saudi kingdom, where a strict interpretation of Islam dominates the public arena. That poses a specific challenge to women workers, especially at the lower end of the income scale. They often can't interview for jobs with male bosses and need special accommodations to get to work, since they can’t drive themselves or spend their wages on a driver.

That's why Samar Fatany, a Saudi radio host and one of the kingdom’s prominent women voices, said the all-female development is a good thing: It may strike us as just more segregation, but to Saudi eyes it looks like empowerment.

"Otherwise, they won’t have that kind of opportunity to work," Fatany told ABC News. "Their culture and environment won’t let them work any other way."

"It's an opportunity to have an income, be financially independent," Fatany added. "It's an economic necessity."

That point was clear on an ABC News trip to Saudi Arabia in 2010, where I visited with women at all-female factories in Riyadh. Of all the women who worked the assembly lines packing boxes and manufacturing light fixtures, most of the women were single mothers abandoned by their husbands and desperately in need of an income. A wall separated them from the male factory workers on the other side, with just a few conveyer belts snaking through to unite the production line.

Those women wanted to work in segregated quarters. With their conservative families and personal religious values, they wouldn’t have taken a job that would involve mixing with men.

The new development falls in line with a Saudi government push to put more women in the workplace, a delicate balance between a more modern Saudi Arabia and the occasional backlash from conservative clerics.

If Saudi men feel threatened by women’s empowerment, it may be because they're suddenly being outperformed in the workplace.

"To me, a Saudi woman is a better worker than the Saudi men," said Khaled Al Maeena, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Gazette. "They work hard and they try harder."

Al Maeena, who is married to Samar Fatany, said Saudi women place more value on their hard-won opportunities.

"Women are more committed, they like to work more, they don’t give excuses, disappearing as men do," he said. "It’s a state of mind."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Volkswagen Gives Workers a Break from BlackBerry Email

Scott Olson/Getty Images(WOLFSBURG, Germany) -- When the BlackBerry appeared, people said the best thing about it was that you could take the office with you wherever you went -- and the worst thing about it was that you had to take the office with you wherever you went.

Now Volkswagen AG, giving in to union demands in Germany to protect workers from burnout, has agreed to stop routing emails to employees' BlackBerry devices 30 minutes after their shifts end, and to not turn them back on until 30 minutes before the next day's shift begins. Their handhelds will still be usable as cellphones.

According to the German newspaper Wolfsburger Allgemeine Zeitung, the policy will affect 1,154 employees covered under a collective bargaining agreement. It's not a large group -- VW says it has more than 190,000 employees in Germany -- but it's a start.

"The new possibilities of communications also present dangers," said Heinz-Joachim Thust of the Volkswagen workers council, in a comment to the paper translated by ABC News. Bosses routinely expect employees to be reachable at off hours, Thust said, and burnout has been a major issue in Germany, especially after the September resignation of Ralf Rangnick, a well-known soccer coach who said he was exhausted by his work.

VW, says the BBC, is following a trend in Europe. The makers of Persil washing powder in the U.K. declared an email "amnesty" for their workers between Christmas and New Year's. Atos, a French technology giant, has announced it will ban internal email starting in 2014 so that workers have more time for other things.

The VW email stoppage does not affect managers or non-union employees, and the union said such policies may not be practical for other companies, particularly small businesses. But when those 1,154 workers are off-duty, they'll be more off-duty than they were.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio