Basma Al Zamil is the second female family member to work in Zamil Group. Part of the third family generation, she is a pioneer to venture into uncharted new territories in a male dominated workplace. Ever since the start of her career in 2011, she has become an inspiration to many young Saudi women in the workforce. Today, she is the Family Affairs Manager at the Al Zamil Private Office and tells WIFB more about her journey, her family business, and the exciting future ahead.
Your family business started in the 1920s, but it was only with the third generation, in 2011 that a woman – You – joined the family work-force. How do you feel about that?
Many things had to happen over the years to prepare the stage for this development: the acceptance of women colleagues in the workplace. It was not outright neglect nor direct refusal but several things had to align for this move, so my father and uncles were waiting for the right opportunity. They did it gradually and in a very structured manner, which is why it took time until it became norm. We wanted to make sure everything was ready and well organized, in order for us to get the best experience possible. Especially the first time women were employed in our factories in Saudi Arabia. There were many challenges that needed to be addressed and settled. Now there are other companies that are reaching out to women to join the workplace as well; and not just women who are family members. This just goes to prove that it was a very successful step in the right direction.
Tell me about the second generation of women. How do they feel about this new role for women and what role if any do they play in getting there?
Our aunts are the invisible force that play a very strategic role in the family. My uncles treat them as if they were right there working with them at the office. This gives us [the younger generations] a very clear assurance that our uncles value our aunts’ opinions and wishes and that they are important to them. This role modelling from the older generation paved the way for our generation to adopt the same respect and behavior towards women in the family in general, whether they are officially or unofficially involved in the business.
You are greatly involved in developing the next generation of the Al Zamil family. Do you look at what the needs are in the company, for example whether it needs more engineers or accountants, and will that influence where and what the kids are going study?
I’d like for the kids to come and see what we’re doing and then decide for themselves. It could be a situation where the kids will come and see what their father is doing and they’ll decide to do the same. But having them come to the office regularly, see what’s happening and understand the different departments that we have in the office, as well as the factories will hopefully stimulate their thinking around: ‘what do I need to do to join’.
If I ask the younger girls in the family I’m sure they’ll tell me you’re their role model. That’s a huge weight to carry, so how do you inspire the younger girls to be like you and join the family business?
That is a big title – role model! I don’t think of myself as such. I was just lucky to be the first, and I hope to be there to assist the younger generation to be part of the family business. I try to help them develop this interest in the family business by involving them in the family activities that we organize regularly. In fact, I empower them to take leading roles in planning, managing and executing the activities. This gives them confidence in themselves and their abilities and allows them to enjoy the recognition from our uncles and the older generation, who would not otherwise get to see them in such leading roles.