Source: CNBC

Saudi Aramco, the world's largest energy company, recently appointed a female executive to its board, a decision that saw several other individuals join the company at the senior management level.

On Sunday, the oil company announced the appointment of Lynn Laverty Elsenhans, an American oil executive, to its 11-member board.

Elsenhans, a former chief executive and chair of U.S. oil refiner Sunoco, is considered to be one of the world's most powerful women, according to a 2009 Forbes ranking.

Elsenhans worked with Royal Dutch Shell for more than 28 years, where she held a senior executive position.

The announcement is considered a milestone for the kingdom, where 22 percent of women participate in the workforce, making it a rarity for females to reach top executive positions.

However, in line with Vision 2030, the kingdom aims to increase women's overall participation in the workforce from 22 percent to 30 percent or higher.

Source: Forbes

"There are very few female executives"

This month, new research by LinkedIn revealed that the majority of Saudi women believe their biggest obstacle in professional settings is a false perception that they lack "necessary skills to succeed." 

Although 60 percent of Saudi women and professional recruiters agree that significant progress has been made towards achieving the kingdom’s vision to increase women's participation in the workforce, 52 percent of women still feel employers perceive them as unqualified. 

Despite progress, 37 percent of women in the kingdom also believe employers still need to do more to hire them in key roles. 

Last year, Saudi daily Okaz reported that 40 percent of the private wealth in the country is in women's hands, and Saudi women own 15,000 commercial institutions.

Saudi women have particularly made huge strides in the field of entrepreneurship. 

According to statistics from Al-Sayedah Khadijah Bint Khuwailid Businesswomen's Center, released in late 2015, 63 percent of Saudi women managed successful businesses, though sometimes unregistered.

In fact, young Saudi women are more educated than men

Source: Pinterest

Young Saudi women are actually more likely to be highly educated than their male counterparts. 

According to a 2016 report by the Pew Research Center, about 35 percent of young Saudi women (aged 25-34) have gone on to attend higher education (or education beyond high school). Among young men in the kingdom, just 28 percent had continued their studies after high school.

The data for that report was compiled from 2010 statistics. Since then, if anything, even higher percentages of young women and men have gone on to attend university.

Among Saudi women who use LinkedIn, 63 percent have completed bachelor's degrees, while more than 17 percent have finished master's degrees.

With more and more women attending universities inside the kingdom and abroad, Saudi Arabia is also working hard at increasing equal opportunities in the workplace.

In 2017, several women took on powerful roles in Saudi Arabia

Sarah Al Suhaimi is now the head of the Saudi stock exchange

In February 2017, three Saudi women took over top financial posts in Saudi Arabia.

Sarah Al Suhaimi was appointed as head of the Saudi stock exchange, making international headlines as the first woman to ever chair Tadawul - which is currently worth $439 billion and is considered to be the Arab world's largest stock exchange. 

Rania Mahmoud Nashar was also named as the CEO of Samba Financial Group. Nashar was the second woman to make it to the top of a major finance industry in the kingdom. 

That same month, Latifa Al-Sabhan was appointed as the chief financial officer of Arab National Bank, one of the top 10 largest banks in the Middle East, with its largest shareholder being Amman-based Arab Bank.

In 2017, Saudi Arabia also hired its first woman - Hind Al-Zahid - as executive director of Dammam Airport. 

Hind Al-Zahid

Increasing women's participation in workforce is a key part of Vision 2030

Increasing women's participation in business and education is a key part of the Vision 2030, a plan championed by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. 

Although women serve in powerful government roles and take the lead in many businesses, the kingdom has been heavily criticized for its treatment of women as second-class citizens. 

The kingdom's male guardianship system - which subjects women to full dependence on their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sometimes even sons, in nearly all aspects of public life - has repeatedly received criticism as it is a hindrance to women's progress.

In recent years, a number of laws have been amended in an effort to empower women, including opening municipal elections to female candidates and making women's verbal consent to marriage mandatory. 

In September 2017, Saudi Arabia lifted its ban on women driving, ending the long-standing policy that has been heavily criticized since 1990.