Maram Kokandi, first Saudi Arabian woman to become a General Manager in hospitality
In March this year, Maram Kokandi made history, with her appointment as the first ever female Saudi General Manager in the hospitality industry. Taking on the responsibility for opening and running the Carlson Rezidor Hotel Group’s new Park Inn by Radisson hotel in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, Maram made a huge leap forward for women across the Middle East.
Maram’s achievement may sound modest in other areas of the world, but the effect her appointment will have on a region in which women make up only 13% of the CEOs of all companies cannot be overstated.
Saudi Arabia faces a major challenge in seeking to increase participation by women in the workplace. Only a fifth of all employees in the country are female, and it is ranked 141 of 144 in the Global Gender Gap – a World Economic Forum study on how women fare in health and education, as well as economic and political participation in their countries. This is why the Saudi Vision 2030 that aims to turn the kingdom into a regional economic leader specifically focuses on increasing the percentage of women in the workplace to 30%.
However, vision alone will not deliver results. What Saudi Arabia needs to encourage women into the workplace are pioneers and role models like Maram to show the way forward.
Maram has always been something of a pioneer; and, after being the first Saudi woman to receive an international scholarship to study hospitality, she gained a bachelor’s degree in International Hospitality Management in the United Kingdom. She then moved back to the Middle East region, taking up various hospitality roles in Saudi Arabia – before accepting the responsibility of launching the new Park Inn by Radisson Jeddah Madinah Road as its General Manager.
“I have been very fortunate that my career in hospitality has been one where my professional achievements have not only given me great personal satisfaction, but in many ways they have also had a broader positive impact on the hospitality industry,” explains Maram. “I have taken a lot of pride from my achievements – from early in my career, when I was one of the first female hotel sales managers in Saudi Arabia, being awarded an international scholarship to study hospitality management and, most recently, to my proudest achievement, my appointment as the first Saudi female General Manager in the Hospitality industry worldwide with Carlson Rezidor.”
Carlson Rezidor’s Balanced Leadership program, and its drive towards improving diversity and inclusion within its business, encouraged Maram Kokandi to successfully apply for the General Manager position. Maram’s appointment complements the Saudi Vision 2030 launched last year, that emphasizes the need to develop tourism and also the significance of Saudi women and their role in leading the development of both social and professional growth of the Kingdom. In Saudi Arabia, Carlson Rezidor has already made great progress, moving from six female employees in 2014 to 84 today, with 12 in leadership positions.
“This milestone means an incredible amount to me and I hope that I can be an inspiration to women, both in Saudi Arabia and internationally, looking to develop a career in hospitality,” continues Maram. “Indeed, my appointment appears to have acted as a catalyst for other Saudi females, who have since followed in my footsteps to reach leadership positions within the hospitality industry.
Maram’s appointment has aroused media interest from all over the world – not to mention the encouragement she has received from her Carlson Rezidor colleagues and the general public. Maram has been invited for interviews with several media outlets, including a live TV interview on Dubai TV, interviews with Hotel News ME, Arab News, The National and the prestigious Saudi magazine Sayidaty. Maram has been invited as a keynote speaker of the upcoming 3rd. Women in Leadership (WIL) Economic Forum 2017 in Saudi Arabia, as a guest speaker at the prestigious private member’s business club Capital Club in Bahrain and on “Kalam Nawaem”, a female-hosted Arabic talk show that airs on the satellite network MBC1.
With her immediate priority to successfully launch the new Park Inn by Radisson hotel in Jeddah; in the long term, Maram is determined to be a role model. Or as she puts it, she wants to “encourage more Saudi women to join the hospitality industry.”
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