MBA Student Perspective: "I am from Saudi Arabia, and I am a Feminist"

By Khalid Alali

My name is Khalid Alali and I am a full-time MBA student in the Class of 2018. I am from Saudi Arabia, and I am a feminist.

During my childhood, I moved with my mother from Saudi Arabia to Massachusetts for 4 years so that she could pursue her medical residency. She is the only one among her six siblings to be sent to the United States. Even more impressive is the fact that she is among the few women in Saudi Arabia who have had such an opportunity. Saudi Arabia has one of the lowest female workforce participation rates in the world at just 20% (141st out of 144 countries).

When I moved back to Saudi Arabia for high school, I had a reverse culture shock. Mostly, I was saddened that my mother was no longer allowed to drive, instead being relegated to the backseat of a car. One of many insurmountable challenges my mother faced upon returning to the country, she nonetheless perseveres.

My mother’s example strongly influenced me. When I entered the workforce, I saw an opportunity to improve gender equity in my workplace. I was tasked with building the Saudi Arabian operations for a technology company, and I strove to hire women into the organization. We hired many women into roles that had been traditionally held by men. Though we knew it made good social sense to employ women, we also found that it made good business sense: From my experience working with them, the women were harder working and less likely to leave the organization than men.

While I was able to make an impact on women’s employment and on society’s perceptions of women in Saudi Arabia, I look forward to one day supporting Saudi Arabia in tackling its biggest challenge: the development of its young workforce. I decided to pursue my MBA to acquire the skills and knowledge I could use to support Saudi Arabia in developing its educational system.  

When I was considering various MBA programs, there were several elements that set Haas apart. First, I was impressed by the progressiveness of Haas’ classes like “The Business Case for Investing in Women.” Second, during the Days at Haas welcome weekend for new admits, I was inspired by an open discussion on gender equity hosted by the Women in Leadership Club.

During the event, one student gave a brief introduction and declared that he was a feminist. I was shocked to hear a man confidently make this declaration in front of a room full of over 100 prospective students. His declaration showed me that Haas is an environment where men feel confident in supporting feminism.

 Haas is distinctive in its support for gender equity, from its unique classes, to its supportive culture and deep-rooted history of activism. The school’s defining principle of “question the status quo” is also alive and well across the University of California, Berkeley. Berkeley has a rich history of activism: the Freedom of Speech movement started in Berkeley and the ethos behind the movement persists in the spirit of the campus today.    

After joining Haas, I was able to experience a campus environment where both men and women are involved in bridging the gender divide. For instance, I am a member of the Haas Women in Leadership Club’s “Manbassadors” program, a group of male students working to promote gender equity by raising awareness of gender issues among male peers. As a Manbassador, I am able to engage with both men and women in open discussions on gender equity.

In our class, “Leading People,” taught by Lecturer Mathijs de Vaan, we have engaged in open discussions on implicit biases, the gender gap in the technology sector, and how companies often use culture as an excuse to avoid hiring minorities.

Through my professional career and at Haas, I have sought to be an ally to women and to be part of environments that can push the envelope for gender equity. Going forward, I hope to take my learnings from Haas’ distinctive culture and classes and incorporate them into the workplace and beyond. I know my mother would be proud.         


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Posted on November 28, 2016
Themes: MBA Benefits
Khalid Alali
Khalid Alali, MBA 18, is a Saudi Arabian consultant and entrepreneur. Prior to pursuing his MBA at Haas, he spent five years working in diverse industries in the high-growth Middle East region. Khalid was excited to come to Haas because of its values-driven culture and its proximity to the Bay Area’s technology ecosystem.