Saudi women join the workforce as country reforms

Manal Ghazwan manages a Starbucks branch located in Saudi capital Riyadh that serves both men and women.

(CNN)Not many women in Saudi Arabia have a day similar to that of Manal Ghazwan and her two colleagues.

Ghazwan, 30, who has a master's degree in food safety management, is the manager of a Starbucks branch located in the Riyadh head office of Alshaya Company, which operates the franchise of the American brand in the Middle East.
Saudi women train to become baristas at the Starbucks headquarters in Riyadh.
"Both the girls in my team have bachelor's degrees, but they were drawn to the challenge and opportunity that working for a multinational company like Starbucks offers," Ghazwan says.
    They are among the trendsetting Saudis moving away from lucrative government jobs to compete for posts in the private sector, and challenging gender roles along the way.

    "Implicit" acceptance of gender mixing

    For years labor laws in Saudi Arabia prevented gender mixing in the workplace. But Ghazwan and her team are unique, in that they serve a clientele of both men and women.
    "Lately, there has been an implicit and unofficial acceptance of gender mixing in the work environment here," says Bader Aljalajel, who opened his coffee shop, 12 Cups, in one of Riyadh's new glitzy boulevards in 2016.
    Badr Aljalajel opened his coffee shop "12 Cups" in 2016.
    The shop is manned by five male Saudi baristas and some expats. Aljalajel now plans to open a second shop, this time staffed by female baristas.
    "Women who sent us their applications know that they will deal with men at work," says Aljalajel. "Those who have an issue with that will become the black sheep."
    The laws have been trending in this direction for years. In 2011, a law was passed that all shops selling women-related products, such as lingerie, should only have female sales representatives. In 2016, drug stores and optics shops could request permits to hire Saudi women, too, so long as the female staff remained separate from male workers and customers.