The real estate industry has long been recognized as a male-dominated domain, with women historically facing numerous barriers when trying to make their mark in this sector.
However, over the years, Saudi women have not only shattered these barriers, but have also emerged as a force to reckon with in the realty realm.
The narrative in the rest of the Arab world is no different. The region is witnessing an impressive surge in the number of women leading real estate conglomerates, executing multi-billion-dollar projects, and reshaping the urban landscape with their vision and expertise.
According to FIABCI Saudi Arabia, Arab women’s participation in the real estate industry is rising, particularly in the UAE and Saudi Arabia.
Women comprise 34.8 percent of registered real estate brokers, with 4,519 women brokers actively participating in 8,606 transactions valued at $189 million, Dubai Land Department data shows. These women constitute 42 percent of the total workforce within the organization.
Other research by Wamda reveals that female-founded MENA startups received $34.6 million in funding in 2021.
As for the Kingdom, the Saudi Arabia Real Estate Development Fund (REDF) has helped about 73,000 Saudi women become first-time homeowners through mortgage loans.
Sarah AlSuhaimi and Lama AlSulaiman are among the leading examples of women who have made their mark in the Saudi real estate sector.
Sarah AlSuhaimi, the first Saudi woman to chair the Saudi Tadawul Group, the largest Middle Eastern stock market, is spearheading efforts to connect Saudi capital markets globally, aligning with Vision 2030.
Her leadership has significantly influenced real estate development and investment in Saudi Arabia, boosting investor confidence. Her ranking at number 7 on Forbes Middle East’s 100 Most Powerful Businesswomen 2023 underscores her impactful role.
Similarly, Lama AlSulaiman, one of the first Saudi women to be elected to the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce (JCC) board in 2005, became the first woman Vice-Chairwoman of the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI) in 2009.
Her leadership at JCCI, a significant player in Jeddah’s commercial and real estate sectors, earned her recognition as a Young Arab Leader by The World Economic Forum, highlighting her key contributions to the business world.
In a dynamic blend of expertise, empowerment, and enthusiasm, the CityScapeWIRE (Cityscape Women in Real Estate) Riyadh event served as a groundbreaking platform that resonated with women’s role in the real estate sector and their contributions toward it.
On the sidelines of CityScapeWIRE, Al Arabiya English spoke to member of the Advisory Board for CityscapeWIRE and Managing Director of ‘eXp Dubai’, Dounia Fadi, who shared her thoughts on the growing importance of women in the Saudi real estate sector.
According to Fadi, CityscapeWIRE’s aim was quite simple: Inspire, fuel and unite professional women to thrive in the real estate sector. The event aims to support women in the industry through mentorship programs, workshops, think tanks and networking events throughout the MENA region.
“Our digital community is a safe space for women to share [their experiences] and raise questions,” Fadi said.
Emergence of women in real estate sector
Despite the significant progress made by them in various other fields over the years, in real estate, women continued to encounter gender bias, lack of representation, limited access to capital and a skewed work-life balance.
“There are not enough women in leadership roles yet. We are still in the minority and that’s because of multiple factors. We perhaps entered the domain very late. While some women have chosen to take care of their families, many others just didn’t make it,” Fadi explained.
“Our goal is to increase women’s participation and have more of them in leadership roles to balance the equation,” she added.
Success stories and inspiring women
Despite the challenges, many women have achieved remarkable success in the real estate sector.
Mashael bin Saedan, a Saudi businesswoman, has made significant strides in shaping the future of Saudi Arabia’s real estate sector.
Her company, Al-Saedan for Development, was among the three private firms approved by Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz in 2019 for the National Industrial Development and Logistics Program.
Saedan’s deep involvement in real estate started early due to her family’s history in land development and she has been a trailblazer in promoting female participation in the industry.
She pursued higher education in English-speaking countries to expand her global presence and, rather than taking a job offer abroad, chose to return to Saudi Arabia to make a positive impact here.
From her side, Fadi highlighted the importance of men and women partnership in the real estate sector.
“We’re not saying women must work in isolation. Rather, they can work together with men and bring something better to the table,” she said.
Fadi further said: “For us, watching Saudi women move up the ladder is really a pleasure. As a Muslim and Arab girl visiting Saudi Arabia on a business trip, I still can’t believe what I’m seeing, but it is true, and we are indeed moving forward.”
She added: “I see progress, I see the potential, I see the vision.”
Narrowing the topic down, Al Arabiya English conducted an exclusive interview with one of the prominent female figures in the real estate sphere in the Kingdom Dr Raihan Jomaa. An entrepreneur with a PhD in Leadership Management, Organizational Behavior, and Entrepreneurship, Dr Jomaa shared her remarkable journey in this industry.
In her capacity as a real estate company owner in both Britain and Saudi Arabia, Dr Jomaa emphasized the critical role time plays in achieving success in this industry.
She acknowledged that the quest for work-life balance can sometimes put women at a disadvantage. Nevertheless, she has adopted a time-based approach, viewing this challenge as a significant opportunity.
She advises: “For women aspiring to enter the real estate field, a substantial investment of unpaid time is essential. Time should be their primary focus, with monetary gains as a consequential outcome.”
Recognizing the pivotal importance of women’s involvement in the Saudi real estate sector, Dr Jomaa asserted: “Previously relegated to marketing roles, today, we’ve evolved into developers –all thanks to the trust and confidence placed in us by both women and men.”
Women empowerment in Saudi Arabia
“During CityscapeWIRE, we had nonstop events, including panel discussions mostly featuring women from various backgrounds and sectors, who shared their thoughts on the sector and its challenges,” Fadi said. “We are willing to conduct similar events soon in the Kingdom,” Fadi added.
Women have come a long way in the real estate sector, making their mark as successful professionals, entrepreneurs and leaders.
While challenges persist, the industry is changing, with a growing commitment to diversity and inclusivity. As more women continue to excel in this sector, their contributions are expected to shape the future of this dynamic industry, creating a more level-playing field for generations to come.
Fadi was amazed by the unique networking experience that CityScapeWIRE offered, highlighting the challenges faced by women in the real estate industry, while inviting them to believe in themselves and unveil their true potential.
“Unless you try it, you’re never going to know what your potential is,” she said. “Just start! When you start, the doors start opening and opportunities start coming your way. Ask for what you need and make yourself heard,” she reiterated.
“Just take the leap of faith and get into whatever you like to do, instead of questioning yourself and doubting your abilities,” she commented.
Echoing Fadi’s words, Dr Jomaa said in the real estate sector, a woman’s success hinges on dedicating time and encouraging involvement of men.
She said this is particularly relevant in the light of the robust legislation in the Kingdom, which has created a level playing field for both genders.
Elaborating the point further, Dr Jomaa emphasized: “In the context of Saudi Vision 2030, it is important to trust good governance and leadership, believe in your capabilities and foster collaboration with men, as these are fundamental elements.”
She also advised women to actively participate in conferences and exhibitions while seeking the support of their families, as this is their moment to shine and excel.