Taking risks and breaking barriers early on helped her get the job she holds today
March 13, 2022
Sarah Kanadiley always knew that she would work in an office, even though when she was growing up in Saudi Arabia, she knew very few women who worked outside of the home, and almost none in company offices.
“I always imagined myself wearing a suit, going to an office, and working for a global company, even though it was not easy to do so at that time,” said Sarah, who today is an HR Specialist at the GE Manufacturing and Technology Center (GEMTEC) in Dammam. What she didn’t know then was the specific career she would choose.
But after an on-the-job assignment in the field of human resources at GE’s GEMTEC facility as part of her university degree requirement, she was hooked on HR.
Her primary assignment, under GE’s Cooperative Program with the university, was to develop an evaluation system for GEMTEC’s employees who provide much of the hands-on maintenance, repair, and production work at the facility. “This was the trigger for me. If I, even as a student, could contribute to the organization in this way, it opened the possibilities of HR for me.”
The GEMTEC campus includes a Service and Repairs Center for gas turbines; a Monitoring & Diagnostics Center for the remote monitoring of power generation assets; GE’s Hot & Harsh R&D Center; and GE Saudi Advanced Turbines (GESAT), a joint investment by Dussur and GE to manufacture heavy duty gas turbines and components in the Kingdom. Operating for over 10 years now, the GEMTEC campus has served more than 70 customers from over 40 countries already.
After graduation, she was selected for a six-month Early Career Trainee program that gives recent graduates practical work experience with GE. As a trainee, she worked in the HR department at GEMTEC.
When her program concluded, Sarah, who earned a BA in management information systems (MIS) from Imam Abdulrahman Bin Faisal University in Dammam, worked briefly in her family’s business. But she soon realized that she really enjoyed working in a more industrial setting, so she applied and was hired by a Saudi construction equipment company, where she launched the company’s HR function in Dammam.
“That was one of my biggest challenges. I was working on my own, building the department from scratch.”
She found that she enjoyed working with the technicians and other hourly workers in the workshops and saw an opportunity to gain valuable experience with such a workforce, given that they came from all types of backgrounds and education levels.
Helping change the company culture
At the previous employer, she also helped to change the company culture, as the first woman to work at the facility. “In the beginning, it was very difficult for the workshop employees to talk with me; they wouldn’t even look me in the face. But I would be in my office every day, and eventually, they started to share their concerns or tell me how we might improve the way we work. This was remarkable and something I’m very proud of. I helped to change their minds, and eventually, they would come into my office, grab a candy from the chocolate jar sitting on my desk, and talk about their concerns. That really made my day.”
When GEMTEC advertised an opening for her current role, Sarah immediately applied and was hired.
“I really wanted this job so that I would be able to work in the kind of environment offered by GE. I consider myself very lucky to be able to do so,” she says, pointing to the professionalism among colleagues.
“As well, GE places safety as the number one priority, and leaders are really understanding. Whether involving women or men, there’s no bias, and overall it’s a great work environment that’s also flexible.”
That said, Sarah attributes her success, even so early in her career, to loving her work. “I make it my first priority. Yes, I have a family and am committed to them, but by working hard, I am also able to support my family,” something important, given that she is raising a five-year-old son.
“I love what I do, and when you love what you do, even if you’re tired or face obstacles, you’re able to continue working until you find a solution and achieve your goals.”
She enjoys how every day is different in her role, with unique challenges and opportunities, but also new ways to help employees. “I’ve learned to find ways to make decisions that are fair, both for the employee and for the company. Finding solutions that are fair for everybody is a part of my job that I really enjoy. Seeing people leave my office with a smile makes my day.”
‘Bringing open-mindedness home to my son’
As with her previous job, at GEMTEC, Sarah enjoys working with technicians and workers. “These employees are a mix of Saudis and expatriates, with as many as a dozen nationalities represented on the shop floor,” she says.
“It is part of what I love about this kind of environment. It doesn’t just add to my professional experience, but also to me as a person. I love learning about other cultures, interacting with people from other cultures. I bring this home, and can teach my son to respect others, to be open-minded to other cultures and religions, and to learn how to interact with other people.”
As the first woman in her family to work in an office and industrial setting, Sarah’s advice to young women, including her nieces and younger sister, is to always try. Saudi Arabia today is welcoming women in many professions, and she says, “It’s important for women to never be afraid to make mistakes because trying is the best way to learn. Whether in your personal or professional life, always be open to new experiences.”