Saudi Aramco, the world’s most profitable company, has appointed a woman to its board, in a milestone move for Saudi Arabia, where only one-fifth of women work and there are very few female executives.
The oil company, which made profits of $33.8bn (£24.5bn) in the first half of 2017 – $5bn more than second-placed Apple – said on Sunday it had recruited American oil executive Lynn Laverty Elsenhans to its 11-member board.
The appointment of Elsenhans, a former chief executive and chair of US oil refiner Sunoco, comes as the Saudi Arabian government prepares to float Saudi Aramco later this year or early in 2019. The initial public offering, which could take place in London, New York or Hong Kong, will be the world’s largest.
Only a handful of Saudi women are appointed to the board of major Saudi companies, but that is slowly changing in the conservative kingdom, where women are subject to a male guardianship system that in many cases restricts their opportunities to work. The Saudi government has set a target of increasing female participation in the workforce from 22% to 30% by 2030.
Last year the Saudi stock exchange appointed Sarah al-Suhaimi as its first female chair. She was the first woman to chair a major government financial institution in the kingdom.
Elsenhans was named by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s most powerful women in 2008. Prior to her role at Sunoco, Elsenhans was a senior executive at Royal Dutch Shell, where she worked for more than 28 years. She also sits on the board of GlaxoSmithKline.
Also joining Aramco’s board are the Saudi Arabian minister of finance, Mohammed al-Jadaan; the economy minister, Mohammed al-Tuwaijri; Peter Cella, former president and CEO of Chevron Phillips Chemicals; and Andrew Liveris, CEO of the Dow Chemical Company.
The five new members of Aramco’s board will join six returning members, including Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih, who is also Aramco’s chairman, and Amin Nasser, Aramco’s CEO. Minister of state Ibrahim al-Assaf and the managing director of the government-owned Public Investment Fund, Yasir al-Rumayyan, also remain on the board.