Oklahoma State University finance professor Betty Simkins has plenty of international presentation experience, but nothing could prepare her for a presentation at an all-male university in Saudi Arabia.
As the founder and editor for the Journal of Commodity Markets and the Spears School of Business’s expert in all things energy, Simkins regularly visited countries around the globe to teach and present research. In fact, for the past five years Simkins has taught a course at Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia’s national oil company and “de facto” leader of OPEC. She’s well-respected in her field, and an invitation to present at the uniquely all-male King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals (KFUPM) business school in Dharhran, Saudi Arabia, proved it.
“One of our former finance PhD students, Mohammed Alzahrani, is now the dean of the
business school at KFUPM and wanted me to present there,” Simkins said. “I have been
looking forward to presenting there for a while, but traveling to Saudi Arabia is
difficult; you have to get a Visa, send off your passport, all that. Mohammed told
me that I would be the first woman to present at the university’s business school.
All employees are male and the university is ranked number one in the Arab Region
by a well know ranking service. I was thrilled to be the first woman to present there
and look forward to visiting again.”
Simkins presented her literature review, “A Review of the Literature on Commodity and Risk Management,” which is co-authored by OSU professor of finance David Carter and two professors at other universities. She also wore an abaya as a sign of respect for the Saudi culture.
“They were incredibly respectful and asked a lot of questions – it felt mostly normal aside from the all-male audience,” Simkins said. “Honestly, I was more worried about my presentation than I was the environment.”
The presentation was a hit. Afterward, Simkins met with the department head to discuss implementing an energy center at the university. The department head asked Simkins to play a role in that development and provide advice.
“It’s slow-changing, but it is changing over there,” Simkins said. “Women are allowed to vote now, but they still can’t drive. My goal was to spark interest in research in this area of energy and to get more people in to help answer the unanswered questions, and I think I did that at KFUPM’s business school.”