2012 Arab News
2012-04-07 Saleswomen at lingerie shops: Staff fight odds
Published: Apr 7, 2012 00:00 Updated: Apr 7, 2012 00:00

Long working hours, customers rudeness fail to deter sales ladies. Despite the growing numbers of women working in lingerie and cosmetic shops, some saleswomen are still facing peer pressure. With the shops trying to train and appoint women salespersons and shop assistants during the Labor Ministry mandated grace period the businesses are still facing a shortage of trained female personnel. The reasons vary.

The ministry has given a grace period of six months to feminize lingerie shops and 12 months to feminize shops selling cosmetics along with other goods. Despite initial hiccups lack of trained personnel, long working hours, transportation issues and overcoming social taboos the ministry is viewing the change as positive. Assistant Undersecretary for Development at the Ministry of Labor Fahd Al-Takhaifi confirmed that the ministry aims to achieve total feminization of the lingerie and cosmetic shops and boosting economy.

The order created a suitable environment for women to work comfortably besides boosting the nationalization of jobs. It helps economic progress because it is instrumental in generating a large number of jobs for women, he told Arab News. The move also prevents the flow of a considerable part of Saudi investments outside the Kingdom because the employer and the employee are both Saudis, he said.

Asked about shops that refuse to employ women in lingerie shops, Al-Takhaifi said: We did not come across any objection from investors or shop owners about the new regulations during the workshops on the implementation of the order issued by the ministry. Most of the questions posed by the shop owners were about the method of implementing, the order and the government assistance and training for the employment of Saudi women, he said.

Kamal Osman Jamjooms establishment is in the forefront of hiring Saudi women in stores. For example, the company in its brand cosmetic store, Mikyajy, is implementing the plan to feminize all these brand stores in the Kingdom within three months.We are working to hire 400 Saudi saleswomen in our stores around the Kingdom, said Khalid Al-Yafei, retail manger at Mikyajy. He added: Well hire female staff in 128 stores in different regions such as Riyadh, Jeddah, Laith, Jazan, Al-Ola, Asir, Makkah, and Al-Qunfudha. In addition, we are planning to open new 16 stores.

He said the replaced salesmen have been transferred to other brands, regions and countries. The replaced number of youth, estimated around 210, have been transferred, and not fired, he said, adding, We dont want to fire any of our staff, we transfer them to other areas. Some of them moved to work in another brand, and the expatriate workers to other GCC countries. According to Al-Yafei, many saleswomen still suffer from the social stigma of working in shops. But he hopes that this too will pass away. Saleswomen do face difficulties, but these would go away once society accepts this new leap in the labor market, he said.

The major problem facing saleswomen today is transportation. Saleswomen find themselves forced to pay about SR1,000 to SR1,400 monthly to drivers. Ahmad Nabil, retail manger at Nayoumi in Jeddah, confirmed that 450 Saudi saleswoman have been hired in all Nayoumi stores around the Kingdom. In about 90 lingerie shops around the Kingdom, about 150 salesmen were replaced by 450 saleswomen. Our ex-salesmen had been recruited in other brands belonging to KOJ establishment, he said.

He confirmed that saleswomen who are working in small villages faced societys anger especially in the first months of their work. In contrast, women working in Jeddah and Riyadh suffered transportation difficulties. Women in both cosmetic and lingerie shops confirmed that they face transportation difficulties and this is outside the companys purview, Nabil said. However, he added, that some steps have been taken to solve the transportation problem like asking the woman job seeker to opt for the city and district where she would prefer to work. This data helps us find nearest work location, for our staff, if possible, he said.
Centrepoint outlets in the Kingdom are also looking for Saudi saleswomen to fill the vacancies for 500 Saudi saleswomen. We have plans to hire more female employees in our lingerie, makeup and accessories sections. Since the government issued a decision to hire Saudi saleswomen, our group has achieved required rate of feminization of the workplace. Our process continues to ensure having female employees wherever there is an expansion in our stores , said Fida F. Hijjawi, female employment and Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) manager.

According to Hijjawi, over 1,000 female employees were recruited across the Kingdom, and still there is a capacity for 300-500 jobs in the coming year. She said special training academies will be established by Centrepoint to educate women about retail and marketing skills. We are planning to establish three training academies in the Kingdom, which will train around 10,000 females over five years, she said. According to a survey by the ministry in November last year, there are 7,353 lingerie shops in the Kingdom. While 2,032 shops are in Makkah province, 1,864 are in Riyadh province and 1,152 in the Eastern Province.

The records of retail shop data show that 28,116 women expressed their interest to work in lingerie shops, 5,621 women in Riyadh province, 5,086 in Makkah province, 3,831 in the Eastern Province and the rest in other areas. Arab News toured some malls in Jeddah and talked to some of Saudi saleswomen. Many saleswomen said corporate policy did not allow them to talk to media, while those who chose to speak expressed great enthusiasm for the work while stressing continued societal pressure. Weam Al-Harbi, promoted to retail manager at a lingerie shop in Red Sea Mall after seven months as a salesperson, confirmed that most saleswomen consider it difficult to work the night shift.

I have been working as saleswoman for seven months. It is actually difficult to work in Saudi malls especially during night. This is a new experience for all us and it is still difficult to accept that change. She continued: Despite the long hours, my experiences have been good and enjoyable especially when most of the male staff are supporting me and my team to overcome challenges. She added: From my position I find besides refusing to work the night shift, women still dont have skills to work professionally. They still complain and create fake stories once I am not available, she said, adding, A large number of saleswomen have been employed in Aziz and Andalus malls.

Walaa Mohsen, supervisor of Zirga shop for accessories in Red Sea mall, confirmed that women in lingerie shops feel more comfortable where men are banned from entering the shop. This is in sharp contrast to accessory shops where men are allowed. We have noticed cases of harassment from young men. They come to the shop only to talk to saleswomen and flirt. They enter, browse and collect items as if they are going to buy, only to return it to the shelf before leaving without buying, she said.

Even Saudi women mistreat the saleswomen, by showing their displeasure at the women working in shops. They hate us and consider us impolite girls because we work in a mall. They also treat us badly and sometime accuse us of being unprofessional, she said. According to Walaa, some female customers, especially those with their husbands, dont like saleswomen and try to stop their husbands from talking to them. Doaa, a fresh graduate student from Business College at King Abdulaziz University who works at Zirga, complained that women look at us with contempt.

Some people underestimate us and consider us as needy girls, she said. Samar Mohammed, a high school graduate, joined Dior section in Paris Gallery at Aziz Mall a month ago. Samar faced problems when women got jealous because their husbands talked to her. The main issue I face is the bad treatment of some female customers, who are impolite. I hope they appreciate that we are just doing our jobs.

2012 Arab News
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