As the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia undergoes widespread social and economic change, workplace diversity is broadly recognised as a key driver of economic growth and social empowerment. This drive is rapidly moving into fruition, with a recent report stating that Saudi Arabia’s female labour participation reached 37 percent in 2022.
For WSP Middle East’s Project Management Services business, there is a large commitment to engage the untapped potential of Saudi Nationals (of which 44% of WSP's Saudi graduate programme are female) and leverage the company’s ambition to create inclusive, accessible, and equitable working environments.
Below, we hear from three project management changemakers – each making waves in their fields and championing a way forward for fairer industry representation.
‘She is by my side’
From helping build her family home at 5-years-old to working on Saudi Arabia’s Diriyah giga project 20 years later, Fahdah Absuailly shares an inspiring story about making her childhood dream a reality…
“Since I was five years old, I have dreamed to be an architect,” says Fahdah Albusaily, an Assistant Design Manager for WSP Middle East’s Project Management Services team in Riyadh.
“The reason behind that is my father. I remember my father was building our home, and he used to take me with him every day to check the house. He bought me a small hammer to make me engage with the builders, and I even got to leave my own touch in the gypsum board and the patterns,” she says.
By engaging in the various processes of construction, and watching it grow block by block, Fahdah not only left a lasting touch on her family home – the experience left a lasting impression on her by instilling a life-long ambition to become an architect.
“20 years later when I was organising my childhood box, I found a file where I wrote, ‘the beautiful architect Fahdah Albusaily’. I am proud that my dream became a reality.”
But it was equal encouragement from her mother that helped set the path. “She was always by my side, not in front to follow her, and not behind my back; by my side trusting me to find my way… on International Women's Day, I would thank my first woman, my role model, my mom, who supported me unconditionally and believed in me every time I failed.”
Fahdah’s advice to the next generation of engineers and architects is equally as bold: “Engineering is changing. Not only are we seeing an increase in the use of technology, innovation, and sustainability in the industry, but we are also seeing more women entering the field.
“Remember, you can create your opportunity… if you are passionate on something, and you know you can do it, plan it, do it, and you will achieve it.”
She adds: “We all need secure, safe and supportive work environments so everyone can take the opportunity to serve the community according to their abilities and understand their role in life, which I found in WSP.”
‘Look to people as humans’
Journeying from the ski slopes of Serbia to the desert surrounds of Dammam, Sandra Radivojevic opens up about her ‘moon-landing’ moment, and having the engineering universe in the palm of her hands…
As the first female Project Director in WSP’s KSA business, Sandra Radivojevic is modest about the achievements she’s racked up in an exciting career spanning almost 30 years. Starting out as a forestry and wood engineer in Belgrade, to physically and figuratively scaling mountain tops for one of the world’s leading ski resort designers, she’s carved out a niche career path.
Now, based in Dammam, Sandra is tasked with leading an impressively diverse team on WSP’s engagements for SEVEN. Though she’s at the pinnacle of her game, Sandra draws on some memorable experiences from her youth which helped guide her to where she is today.
“My dad was a mechanical engineer, and he had a small workshop in our family house, so I was playing a lot with tools in his workshop when I was young. I also began acting in some local amateur theaters in Belgrade and I was really good. But I didn't want to be an actress. I wanted to be more like a director in theatre or something like that.
“I also spent my childhood traveling around Yugoslavia, the Balkan region, even Europe, with scouts as well. I really like nature. So, for me I needed a kind of marriage between engineering and nature. I didn't like typical construction, like buildings and steel and concrete.”
One could almost say that Sandra finally landed her first directing gig – albeit for one of the major megaprojects taking place in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. And it is here that she is helping transform the Kingdom’s entertainment sector as well as inspire the next generation of engineering talent following in her footsteps.
“One thing that I'm really proud of is motivating people to learn and to love this kind of industry. I started with something different, but also very similar to my background, building chairlifts, artificial snow making systems, torrent and erosion control works, and ended up transitioning from European ski slopes to Ski Dubai.
“For people in the ski industry, because it's really niche, Ski Dubai was like going to the moon and rocket science! I like to ski, but I don't like the cold… I used to say to my husband, ‘if I can live on the beach and work in ski resorts, that would be my dream, and I achieved it!”
Leading by example, Sandra echoes that hard work and following your dreams is the key to success. “My advice? Follow your heart, don't just follow money… look to people as humans and to try to find your inner strength. It’s just a matter of opening your mind, opening your heart, supporting people and people will support you.
“I encourage all women to break boundaries, to push their careers to new heights”.
‘Collaborating with project management’s finest minds’
Madhawi Alhajri shares how future generations can embody the culture and traditions of Saudi Arabia in order to showcase resourcefulness, wisdom, and leadership …
From committing as a practicing architect on the Riyadh Metro, to delving into project management at King Salman Park, Madhawi has been able to develop a broad skillset and become a mid-career professional in the field of urban development and domestic design management.
Although she’s amassed an impressive amount of experience to date, Madhawi’s biggest highlight is being inspired by the people around her.
“My proudest career highlight has nothing to do with the projects I led. Instead, it’s linked to the individuals I’ve worked with. During my six-and-a-half years of professional experience, I have had the pleasure of working with a plethora of talented and proactively dedicated employees in the field of Project and Construction Management. Not only has this given me the chance to collaborate with some of project management finest minds, but it has also allowed me to apply and expand my knowledge to deliver the highest quality of work,” she says.
Working in a country where rapid social and economic transformations have spurred exciting opportunities for people from diverse backgrounds, Madhawi adds that workforces which feature people of different ages, genders, nationalities, and other social backgrounds can contribute positively to the bottom line of any company. However, she imparts a few words of wisdom for the next generation of project managers:
“First and foremost, don’t underestimate the value of acquiring a solid background in project management theory and practice.”
“Secondly, be prepared for obstacles, shifts in direction, and the occasional setback.”
“Thirdly, don’t forget the importance of communication and even delegation.”
“Finally, surround yourself with people who can mentor, inspire, and challenge you.”
Madhawi adds: “At the end of the day, there is no greater feeling than that of accomplishment – and this is something I strive to achieve through hard work and dedication to my chosen profession. Every day, I am grateful for the opportunity to work in such a diverse and inspiring field and look forward to creating new challenges and opportunities.”