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How can Saudi companies optimize the positive experiences of women as they implement the 2030 vision?

Women Leadership in Saudi Arabia


It is important to start by noting that the term ‘leadership’ in the context of this research refers to leaders of organisations. I.e. Males/females in senior management roles that include director positions and above (C-Suite all the way to business ownership). A definition that best describes leadership in this context is provided by Barnard, (1948) as he defines leadership as the ability of a superior to influence the behavior of a subordinate or group and persuade them to follow a particular course of action. Bertocci (2009) states that the goal of leadership in enterprises is to influence workers to achieve the goals of enterprises.

According to Gipson et al. (2017), the increasing rate of globalisation and empowerment of women in the levels of leadership and public administration has led to an exponential growth in the number of women in executive leadership positions worldwide . After enduring years of pain and pangs of neglect and discrimination in spheres of leadership and human rights, women in Saudi Arabia have made remarkable progress towards active participation in leadership and policy issues.

With the new ‘Saudisation’ legislation being implemented in today’s labour force in Saudi Arabia, females are finally being allowed to work in both the public and private sector, allowing for women to widen their scope when considering to enter the labour market.  (Ministry of labour of Saudi Arabia, 2018). Nonetheless, with the increase number of females entering the labour force and contributing to organisations worldwide, females still find themselves struggling to achieve equality with their gender counterpart. (World Economic Forum, 2015). In terms of Saudi Arabia, as a nation studying women in leadership management roles is very interesting due to the cultural system in place and the governing body heavily influenced by ‘Sharia Law’. i.e. Islam and it being the religion of choice in the kingdom and one that implicates such rules, polices and regulations that shape the way the country operates. Characteristics of such living environment have led to females to live in a setting that has a diverse impact on their progression through to/and at working level. (Abalkhail and Allan, 2015).

However, the introductions of vision 2030 has provided a pragmatic blueprint to the future of the nation which is vested in harnessing the potential of women as a vital part of the kingdom in work, leadership, and most recently driving. These are clear indications of the transformation undertaken by Saudi Arabian women in administration in spite of the restrictive and discriminative cultural norms (Wilson and Graham, 2016). There are already notable changes that include expansions in opportunities relating to the educational and health sectors in an attempt to empower females and promote gender equality. (UNDP, 2006). To understand the scope that the 2030 vision offered to the Saudi nation His Royal Highness Prince (HRHP) Mohammed Bin Salman Bin Abdul-Aziz (2018), stated and I quote

‘Saudi’s vision is the determination to become a global investment powerhouse. Our nation holds strong investment capabilities, which we will harness to stimulate our economy and diversify our revenues’. However, he continued to say ‘our real wealth lies in the ambition of our people and the potential of our younger generation. Together we will continue building a better country, fulfilling our dream of prosperity and unlocking the talent, potential, and dedication of our young men and women’. Even within sectors that are traditionally viewed as female dominated industries, females are being recognised for still being concentrated within the lower end of the spectrum in terms of the corporate ladder due to the gender segregation in place in the working environment. Leading to females in managerial roles to be viewed upon as minorities in comparison to their gender counterpart in those senior positions. (Linehan and Scullion, 2001). This is despite women coming from a strong educational background and accompanied by high aspirations to progress in their working field. It is very noticeable that not many achieve the same salary or status as males would in similar positions. (Chenevert and Tremblay, 2002).


Aim & Objectives

The aim of this research is to study women’s perceptions that influence their progression in Saudi Arabia into leadership positions and what desired impact that can have on an organisation, whether it is public, private or educational. The objective of this research is to assess the factors and barriers that relate to female employees in Saudi Arabia in progressing into higher management and whether they are provided with the same opportunities and tools to reach heights made by their gender counterpart. With the new regulations implemented in Saudi Arabia and the forward thinking approach the country is investing heavily in, that include the 2030 vision, will women feel inspired to reach top management positions in both the public and private sector.

Some questions that this exploratory research study aims to answer are:

  • What barriers do Saudi females experience during their progression to senior leadership roles?
  • How optimistic do Saudi women feel about the country’s 2030 vision?
  • How can Saudi companies optimise the positive experiences of women as they implement the 2030 vision?

Literature Review

The following literature review will provide a critical analysis of women leadership in Saudi Arabia with a central focus on challenges of women leadership, the upsurge of women leaders with vision 2030, and future of women leadership in Saudi Arabia and the world.

Cross-cultural research on women across the globe shows an exponential increase in the women leadership positions (Hodges, 2017). The opportunities that females have in comparison to their gender counterpart of making it to the top in the labour force is considered much slimmer due to corporate prejudices and tradition. In the business world, such phenomena is referred to as the ’glass ceiling’ phenomenon. This was printed in the Wall Street Journal for the first time in a report that describes females in the corporate world (Hymowitz & Schellhardt, 1986).

Preventing women – or – minorities from reaching the top in the corporate world later became a synonym for all invisible barriers to be known as ‘Glass Celling’. Other scholars such as Eagly and Carli suggest a different term, the “labyrinth”, which conveys the idea of “a complex journey toward a target worth striving for. Using awareness, persistence and careful analysis will allow for a successful passage through a labyrinth, regardless of how difficult or indirect that passage may be (Eagly and Carli, 2007). Nonetheless, studies also show that women leaders around the world face similar problematic issues such as few role models, career advancement opportunities, and limited training opportunities (Abakhail, 2017). Wilson and Graham (2016) note that oppressive cultural practices in the larger Saudi Arabia introduce a different set of problems to female leaders.

Research by Wilkinson (1996) conducted in Bahrain, Oman, and the United Arab Emirates found that in spite of the rapid development towards realisation of equality in leadership, the primary challenge for women leadership is based on cultural taboos and issues. This study was reinforced by Shahine (1997) who contends that the traditional practices and beliefs within the Arabian communities hindered the advancement of women in careers, thus reducing the likelihood of women to be acknowledged and accepted as leaders. The limitation inflicted on the Saudi Arabian women was analysed by Rea and Vidyasagar (2004) who found out that restriction was put on women rights to education, travel, and jobs. Some scholars perceive it was locking the females into discriminatory traditional gender responsibilities, which hinder their input in influencing the socio-economic progress of a nation (Thompson, 2015).

In criticizing the restrictive policies of the gulf countries, Eltahawy (2015, p.195) argues that “Saudi Arabia is a country that has heavily invested in infrastructural growth and knowledge transfer yet locks its women in a medieval bubble.” However, other researchers have interpreted this as valuing and respecting unique rather than lesser skills and capabilities of women in the country. This shows that women leadership is primarily hindered by cultures and traditions, which support patriarchy and chauvinism in all aspects. To lay the foundation towards a fundamental examination of the issues surrounding women leadership in Saudi Arabia, the research will first conduct a review of the upsurge of women leaders in the 21st century.


The Upsurge of Women Leadership in the 21st Century


Because of the massive globalisation and empowerment of women in the levels of leadership and public administration, the last ten years have witnessed a rapid growth in women involvement in senior leadership positions and policy-development activities in the private and public arena (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). Hodges (2017) asserts that the recent advancements signify a comprehensible strategic direction of the policymakers towards greater participation of women in governance issues around the globe. Having more women in the government and policy issues not only serves as role models but tables’ problems and grievances of women on the global agenda (Alsubaie and Jones, 2017). When women are meaningfully engaged and represented in the leadership positions, the rulings, laws, and decisions are more likely to be diverse, representative and inclusive of all the societal views (Wilson and Graham, 2016).


According to UN Women (2019), women only comprise 24% of the total parliamentarians in the world, an increase from the initial 11.3 % in the year 1995. The statistics are taken from the world consequently shows that 11 women govern their countries as the heads of state while ten serve as the heads of government. This mostly comprises of economically stable countries with high GDP and low mortality rates such as Germany and the United Kingdom. Furthermore, Abalkhail (2017) asserts that countries with a more significant proportion of women in leadership positions experience slightly low levels of discrimination and income inequality. In support of the studies, Thompson (2015) found that more women in leadership are conducive for the general good health of the population. In the government of Canada, women championed for health-promoting government expenditures that reduced the mortality rate (Alsubaie and Jones, 2017). Involving women in diplomacy issues integrates values of dialogue and accelerates international cooperation. In addition to that, McKinsey Global Institute reports that if gender equality is realised in the world, then $12 trillion could be added to the global GDP by the year 2025 (Hodges, 2017). These recent developments have prompted an upsurge of women and renewed efforts by international institutions, such as the UN, to ultimately ensure gender equality for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).



Women Leadership in Saudi Arabian Context

This section of the study reviews the literature on the Saudi Arabian perception of women leadership and the critical challenges to women leadership from a multidimensional perspective. There are evident similarities in leadership issues faced by women from all over the world (Renard, 2014). Nonetheless, the unique Gulf region culture poses serious challenges towards women leadership and participation in policy development (Al-Asfour, 2017). A cross cultural examination of the western cultures, for instance, shows that lack of role models, stereotyping and inadequate training are the key challenges towards realising gender equality (Hodges, 2017). The lack of support, training and mentoring females receive from their organisations due to the lack of female leaders with the right skills knowledge and experience that can provide them with such support is a great hindrance on female’s progression.

In terms of females advancing up the corporate ladder in their respective organisations, mentoring programs seem to be non-existent (Tlaiss and Kauser, 2011) and talented women are not being targeted for strategic action programmes (Sidani and Al Ariss, 2013). Therefore, there is a heavy reliance from female managers in such organisations on their own family and close relationships for assistance/guidance through issues or barriers as they progress through their working life journey. (Abalkhail and Allan, 2015). This is then evident that organisation do not pay much attention to strategically supporting females and leading them to face other challenges that differ from social factors. (Karam and Afiouni, 2014).

Adding to this, studies involving top women leaders in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Oman shows that the problems encountered include discrimination at work, cultural influence, low self-esteem and negative societal attitude towards working women (Dirani, Hamie, and Tlaiss, 2017). The practices and beliefs illustrates the culture of Saudi Arabian people in the community and workplace, which adversely influences the ability of women to effectively exercise their leadership mandate (Hodges, 2017).

Whilst there is clearly a general principle of equity between women and men in Islam, gender inequality remains in Muslim countries. For example, there is inequality in inheritance between men and women, and this stems from the fact that men are the primary breadwinner in the family. It is important, though, to mention that inequality between genders is due not to Islam as a religion, but results from patriarchal interpretations of Islam (Mernissi, 2011).

That been said, Islam rejects any type of discrimination and emphasizes equity between genders. This implies that women, like men, have the right to own and inherit property, to receive child support, to seek education and to look for employment (Mernissi, 2011).

Islam gave this right and there is no clear-cut text in the Qur’an that precludes women from any job, including high political positions (Ahmed, 2011).

In her examination of female leadership in the Arabian countries, Shahine (1997) asserts that in spite of the rapid women empowerment, societal beliefs and practices hinder women from climbing the upward leadership mantle in the society. The traditional ideas, according to Alsubaie and Jones (2017), relate leadership traits and potential with men. Because of that, they argue that for women to assume leadership positions and influence the society positively, they must understand features associated with men such as commitment, motivation and assertive behaviours (Alsubaie and Jones, 2017). This provides a general analysis of the core challenges of women leadership and related societal factors that have facilitated them.

The next section of the studies will review the progress of women leadership in Saudi Arabia to analyse the critical underlying issues towards developing female leaders

Women Leadership Progress and the Vision 2030

Hodges (2017) asserts that Saudi Arabia has undergone numerous reforms to ensure the promotion of women leadership. According to Syed, Ali, and Hennekam (2018), there is a 40% increase in women population not only in the current workforce but also actively involved in senior management positions in the country. Abalkhal (2017) in his research argues that there are already 350,000 Saudi women in the workforce with the number expected to increase by 30% by the end of the year 2019. These reforms, according to Metcalfe (2008), are solely motivated by the performance of women in higher education and civil service. A study conducted by Oyvind Martinsen of the Norwegian School of Business critically assess the characteristics and personality of close to 3000 managers in the corporate field (Al-Asfour et al., 2017). In almost all segments, the study proved beyond reasonable doubts that women outperformed men in virtually all the areas that were investigated emerging best in four out of the possible five categories. Women were best in openness and ability to innovate, clear and initiative communication, goal setting, and methodological management and lastly sociability (Al-Asfour et al., 2017).

Wilson and Graham (2016) maintain that the current enrolment of women into universities provides an excellent foundation to assume current and future leadership roles in society. Women currently make up the majority of the school-going population in Saudi Arabia. There are more than 300 colleges that help acquaint women with technical skills in addition to the established private and public universities countrywide (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). Moreover, women currently make 56.6 percent of the students enrolled in the university, and approximately 20% of the others employed in international universities (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). It represents a dawn of new era towards unleashing the full potential of women and recognizing their role in various fields. The oppressive policies that deterred women from working, driving, and even pursuing educational opportunities are long gone ushering women into a world full of possibilities. (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018).

Hodges (2017) claims that by the year 2025, Saudi may be among the countries witnessing the narrowing of the gender gap by almost 30%. Consequently, according to Syed, Ali, and Hennekam (2018), the vision 2030 created by crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salma and King Salman that calls for a renewed focus on education, improving women status and ensuring equality offers real encouragement and hope for women leaders.

Lastly, lifting of the anti-driving ban against women in 2018 is one of the most fundamental achievements towards freedom and rights of the women in the country (Hennekam, 2018). The milestone achievement does not only provide women with an opportunity to contribute to the economic development of the nation but also places Saudi Arabia at a strategic place in its history towards the realisation of the vision 2030 objective of economic growth through vehicle manufacture (Hennekam, 2018).

The vision 2030, which is a pragmatic blueprint for economic development, has created opportunities for full participation and equal opportunities. The concept recognises the role of women in economic development and policy issues by increasing the full women participation in the workforce by to 30% from the initial 22%. When ultimately implemented fully, Saudi Arabia is likely to be the best places in the world to cultivate women empowerment and leadership.

The next section reviews the challenges that have negatively affected women and influenced their ability to take up leadership roles.


Challenges Facing Women Leaders in Saudi Arabia

Studies strongly suggest that one of the most significant challenges female leadership is chauvinistic practices and attitudes towards females. Elamin and Omar (2010) studied and found that males in Saudi submit to the common belief that men are independent, dominant, aggressive, and competitive enough to be a leader. Women, on the other hand, are assumed to be dependent, submissive, child-rearing, caring, domestic, and incapable of leadership in society. His findings, however, appear to contradict the views of other researchers. For instance, Mostafa (2013) found that there is a consistent change of attitude towards women who take an active role in working and providing food for their families.

While Sidani (2014), argues that even though, there are significant forwards strides towards accommodating women into leadership roles in the last decade, the progress of women has stagnated because of the oppressive cultural norms.

This supports the general argument that the full liberation of the Saudi Arabian women into active participation in leadership only lies in empowerment and eradication of the oppressive cultural barriers.


Other factors profoundly influence the social circumstances of females in Saudi Arabia and other countries across the globe. Shahine (2007) in a study of women in the vast Middle East established that women are subjected to educational, socialisation and social stressors which hinder the formation of attitudes and values needed for leadership roles in the society. This trend is then further aggravated by the restricted authority given to women, which is far much disproportionate to the volume of responsibility accorded to them.

Findings of a study conducted by Lennard (2014) across different countries in the Arab world established that women in most sectors of the government were working under the umbrella of men, which further impeded their levels of accountability and responsibility since they had to defer men ultimately. Almenkash et al. (2007) also established other problems towards women leadership that included poor coordination between the different genders, little clarity in an organisational relationship, lack of enough participation corporate strategic planning and little control over financial resources. Such limitations leads to restrictions placed upon women’s influence and authority in most organisations. This ultimately reduces the number of women that actively take part in leadership roles in various capacities.

Analysis of the literature also indicates that women much doubt their leadership abilities and potential, which generally hampers the struggle for equality. Shahine (1997) established that this was usually because women are subjected to socialisation via social and educational pressures that hinder the formation of attitudes and values which are necessary for leadership. Nonetheless, other studies show that inability to strike a balance between family obligations and professional life results in women feeling weak and incapable of taking up societal leadership roles (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). Taking a global approach, in a study of Egyptian women, Hodges (2017) found that the constant conflict between marital duties and roles at work leads to feelings of frustration among women and eventually culminates into feelings of inferiority, marginalisation and low self-esteem.

Hutchings, Metcalfe, and Cooper (2015) suggest that such attitudes continue to rise despite the intensified empowerment campaigns and women recognition in the world.

Lack of empowerment opportunities for women is one serious challenge identified by the literature review, which is depicted in their inability to achieve organisational goals by influencing the policymaking process. According to Almenkash (2014), several factors significantly contribute to inadequate empowerment in the more significant part of the Middle East. These include poor inter-institutional co-operation, scarce professional exchange opportunities, and total exclusion of women in regulations, policies, and decision making within the entire society.

The evidence also indicates that the level of leadership training available within the region is not able to adequately satisfy the expectations in their role as transformational leaders (Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). Consequently, empowerment can be realized through sufficient authority, access to knowledge and information as well as opportunities self-development. Self-development can be achieved through encouragement and reward of women for participating in policy issues and decision making (Hodges, 2017). Effendi (2018) argues that empowerment boosts the physical and moral sense of affiliation and belonging towards the institution by enhancing feelings of importance and appreciation.

Education is one of the most fundamental pillars of the achievement of the universal goals of gender equality in leadership. Le Renard (2014) maintains that professional women have undergone high levels of education in Saudi Arabia. However, Al- Ahmadi (2011) established that in spite of the increase in literacy and higher education levels in women, it was generating less impact on the career and professional development opportunities in women. This point of view is supported by Sakr (2013) who established that advancement in education and media coverage of matters pertaining women only contributed a small impact on the development of women and related affairs in Saudi Arabia.

In analysing these challenges, one of the primary forces against women is religion. The historical legacy of Wahhabiyya significantly shaped the role of women in society and culminated into the transformation of the state to the Saudi state with a religious foundation (Al-Rasheed, 2013). Wahhabi is often blamed for the many limitations that are put on Saudi women, and such include women exclusion from political issues, which significantly led to delayed activism and emancipation of women in the country.

Al Rasheed (2013) asserts that Saudi Arabia employs the strictest doctrines of Wahhabi teachings compared to other nations of the middle east. It is thus essential to note that religion also plays a significant role in defining the status of women in society and their relationship with men.

Saudi women also face considerable gender stereotyping, Powell and Butterfield (1994) presented several theories on gender discrimination and their promotion to managerial positions. This view was backed up earlier by Marshall, (1984) that suggests that the reason behind such restrictions on females is due to males wanting to maintain their power and control at the top of organisations and promote males with same frame of mind. While Larwood et al., (1988), suggested that discriminating against females from being promoted is not due to their incompetence but rather due to intentional bias from male dominant leaders to structure their organisations in a way that allows males to have control and direct the company’s strategic direction as they see fit with such chauvinistic views that imply that females can’t operate in the same fashion.

As it is well known that the way in which the success of the candidates that reach senior positions regardless of whether its male or female, can heavily rely on the experience, training and mentoring they receive within their organisation to build their skills and competencies to becoming an important figure within an establishment (Abdullahi, 2006). Although at first hand when looking from the outside in, their does not seem to be any discrimination within workplaces globally when it comes to providing training and mentoring for employees in successful organisations. Unfortunately, such statement is very far from accurate. After a study that was undertaken by Amaratunga et al. (2007), its established that not only do females only get appointed from job roles that are considered on the lower end of the corporate ladder, while men are appointed in to work in an operational roles that leads to more training and mentoring than their gender counterpart. Such perceptions are backed up by Dainty et al. (2000), suggesting that females suffer from lack of tailored training and poor/inexistent mentorships.

Social and religious constraints, on the other hand, have long been established as significant barriers in the Asian culture (Kiaye and Singh, (2013). Such constraints have held females back in the Asian world as it hindered their chances of building effective relationships through networking and socialisation, as it’s known that such attributes lead to reaching and maintaining senior positions within organisations (Dorfman et al., 2012). According to the social role theory, women face discrimination from males and society in general due to their various social roles. The reason for such discrimination is that in the Asian Context, females are viewed as obedient and tend to be forced into assuming the role of a family carer rather than provider, meaning that if they do conform with such skills, they are sought to be ineffective in meeting the requirement of a leadership role (Eagly and Schmidt, 2001).


Saleem et al., (2017, PP: 300) elaborates more on this view by stating the following

‘If women assert leadership traits, for instance dominance and authority, it is reciprocated or perceived as negative. Similarly, due to their submissive, emotional and supportive nature, which is considered as negative qualities for top management positions, women face problems in occupying senior positions. Thus in gendered leadership literature, social role perception is mentioned as a major obstacle in assuming top management positions by women.’



Enhancing Women Leadership for Vision 2030

As mentioned earlier, the vision 2030 provides a blueprint for the economic transformation of the Saudi Arabian kingdom. It recognises the role of women as core players with men in the development of the nation in technology and financial hub influenced by the citizens. This section will, therefore, investigate how to best position women to harness their leadership potential for the Vision 2030.

Different scholars have investigated in depth the vital components that greatly influences women direction in Saudi Arabia. With a clear focus on control of such factors, Saudi Arabia will be on the strategic path towards the realisation of gender equality. According to Fatany (2013) asserts that a change in the organisational and social culture is essential in ensuring equal opportunity to all without biases.

Corporate culture refers to attitudes, values, beliefs, and experiences shared by individuals but mostly influenced by the general society. Society still has a general intolerance towards women leadership, which can only be changed through public awareness and empowerment. The social culture of the Arab Peninsula still experiences many cases of gender inequality, which creates a lot of difficulty in the observation of women rights and liberties.

However, Hodges (2017) argues that intensification of the reforms made to exploit the leadership ability of women in Saudi Arabia entirely, there is a high likelihood of significant progress towards women leadership.

A change in the organisational and social culture creates a conducive environment for women to lead without fear, discrimination, or traditional biases meted on them.

Secondly, women enrolment into education and career advancement is fundamental to promoting women leadership through training and role modelling. According to Syed, Ali, and Hennekam (2018), culture is defined as a sense in the experience or act that has a formative influence on character, mind or physical ability of a person. In other words, it entails the process of knowledge acquisition (Hodges, 2017). Maintains that an educated individual has an optimal mind state, which aids them to think clearly, perceive accurately, and act effectively to achieve aspirations and self-selected goals.

When women are empowered through education, they develop a mind-set that can contribute to the personal and economic wellbeing of the entire community (Hodges, 2017). However, even with the remarkable steps to enrol women in the universities, statistics still show a significant gap in entrepreneurship and employment rates among women in Saudi Arabia. The employment rate of women-only stands at 17% against the men whose employment rate is 48% in the country Syed, Ali, and Hennekam, 2018). The gap in the employment rate is even much more Syed, Ali, and Hennekam (2018) argue that there is an essential link between getting a university education and becoming an effective leader. It is, therefore, necessary to ensure that women not only gain access to quality education and training but also allow career advancements at workplaces to exercise their leadership abilities. (Syed, Ali and Hennekam, 2018) established that this enhances the responsibility and accountability of women in the society as they mentor and act as role models to fellow women around the country and globe.

Society is another critical factor that has to be considered and stratified to promote women leadership in Saudi Arabia (Hodges, 2017). A woman who aspires to take part in direction actively should outgrow the childhood socialisation, which limited the development of some vital qualities that are a reserve of male leaders. Moreover, women must overcome discrimination and stereotype imbedded onto them by the society in the areas of selection, promotion, and supervision (Dirani, Hammies, and Tlaiss, 2017). The economic factors, modernisation, liberalisation, and technology factors aid women in calling for their rights and forming feminism movements in Saudi Arabia. Globalisation, communication, and information revolution help diversify the thoughts of equality to the entire world and create influences globally (Dirani, Hammies, and Tlaiss, 2017).

Changing the society to fully accept and embrace the leadership of the woman is not easy but requires resilience and consistency in the face of opposition. Skill is another critical factor required to ensure women soar to greater heights of leadership. Garcia and Heredero (2014) asserts that capabilities are the capacity and ability acquired through systematic, deliberate, and sustained efforts to adaptively and smoothly perform complex jobs, activities, or work with people.

For women to thrive in Saudi Arabia, excellent leadership skills are an invaluable asset that is required by all of them (Hodges, 2017). Efficient leadership requires behaviours and attitude that relate with the abilities that individuals develop (Dirani, Hammies, and Tlaiss, 2017).

Good leaders are fiercely followed because people respect and trust them in all situations. They have both the interpersonal skills and human relations which ensure they bring out the best in the people whom they lead (Dirani, Hammies, and Tlaiss, 2017). There is always a direct link between the execution of the shared leadership goals, innovation, and motivation, which results in a conducive environment for instituting change. Women leadership does not just require championing for equality and rights but instead developing both technical and soft leadership skills that improve trust and respect amongst the followers. Women should develop highly essential leadership qualities like honesty, integrity, courage, humility, passion, sincerity, wisdom, positivity, confidence, sensitivity, compassion, determination, adjustment, intelligence, conscientiousness, extraversion and openness to learning and experience (Dirani, Hammies, and Tlaiss, 2017).


Recent studies by Leadership Foundation in 2013, employers agree that Saudi Arabian women are well informed, better performers, and more punctual compared to their male counterparts. In addition to that, the study is reinforced by Hodges (2017) who established that female are more dedicated, appreciative, and determined to develop by refining themselves to better versions. This is a clear indicator that women are on the right track towards the realisation of the objectives of total elimination of discrimination and stereotyping by the adoption of better of liberal societies that promote the holistic development of all people in the community.



In conclusion, of the review, women leadership is an invaluable asset to the development of the modern society and vision 2030. It not only ensures dignity but also facilitates the realisation of gender equality, better workplace productivity, and economic prosperity. Identified challenges ranging from culture to feelings of negativity and despair though common practices can be comprehensively addressed to a user in a new era of women leadership in Saudi Arabia and the globe to inspire hope and focus towards the achievement of the UN sustainable goals and the Kingdoms 2030 vision.



This section will provide an insight on how the research will be undertaking and signify the best way to find answers to the questions proposed earlier on in the paper. To understand what really is meant by methodology, Creswell, (2017) defines research methodology as a three-step process that includes posing questions or a question, followed by collecting data to try and find solutions to that question(s) and finally come up with answers and recommendations to those answers. This in return will help us collect and analyze data to assist in understanding a certain topic or an issue. The following chapters will break down the different research stages that need to be undertaken to carry out this study.

Research approach

Through the inductive approach, this research will establish observations/findings in relation to the theory applied. Essentially more research will be collected to have a deeper understanding, if those obstacles that females in the work place once viewed as a hindrance are still existent in today’s working environment in Saudi Arabia. This process will involve theory being developed in a ‘data driven manner’ through a grounded theory approach which refers to the theory understood as a set of propositional statements linking key concepts in the theory to one another (Mantere and ketokivi, 2013). As a result, this approach will look at the research phenomena from a different perspective and questions the theory to establish new theory based off the data gathered. As the glass-ceiling phenomenon involves many variables in the human resource world, the research approach will highlight the main the issues that impede females from reaching leadership positions in Saudi Arabia. The areas in which the study will focus on and eventually provide recommendations on how to overcome such barriers include:

  • Gender Stereotyping.
  • Training, mentoring & talent management
  • Social and religious constraints on females in KSA

The identification of the areas that the research will pay attention to makes it possible to design a conceptual framework that will guide the analysis. Gender stereotyping hinders the progression of women into leadership positions as a result the variable is considered from the viewpoint of barriers that affect Saudi women’s progression to senior leadership positions. On the other hand, variables such as training, mentoring and talent management increase the optimism of Saudi women rising to leadership positions in companies. The removal of social and religious constraints can optimise their positive experiences as they seek to occupy leadership positions. In this regard, the conceptual framework for this study can be explained with the aid of a diagram as shown below. The independent variables are located on the left side of the diagram and comprise of elements such as gender stereotyping. The dependent variable is on the right which is women in leadership roles. The independent variables affect the ability of women to rise to leadership roles in the companies. The analysis of these independent variables will answer the research questions by identifying barriers Saudi women face and affect their rise to leadership roles. The variables will also show the feelings of the Saudi women and whether they are optimistic about change. Finally, the research will also show how companies can lift social and religious constraints to increase the positive experiences of the Saudi women.


Research Strategy

Seeing as the aim of this research is to study women’s perceptions that influence their progression in Saudi Arabia into leadership positions and what desired impact that can have on an organisation, whether it is public, private or educational, the research will employ a mixed methods approach. In this case, the researcher will use both quantitative and qualitative information in the analysis. According to Creswell, Vicki & Clark (2011), the mixed methods approach allows a researcher to gain an in-depth understanding of a topic while offsetting the disadvantages inherent in using a particular type of data. The primary benefit of the mixed methods technique is that it has the potential of triangulation, that is, the application of several approaches (techniques, data types, participants, and investigators) to evaluate an issue.


In this regard, the researcher will collect quantitative data to provide detailed accounts of the views of the respondents. Quantitative data has a minimal chance of bias (Wetcher-Hendricks 2014).In most cases, quantitative data comprises of close-ended information, for example, attitude measures such as rating sales and behaviours such as observational checklists. The analysis of the data involves statistically assessing scores gathered through various instruments, for instance, questionnaires to answer research questions or test hypothesis. The information will be a fundamental aspect of this study since it will reduce the chance of prejudices that may affect the accuracy of the outcomes of this investigation.

Opinions and perceptions of the participants are also a critical element of the study. They will be accumulated as data for this study, meaning that qualitative research is also appropriate to apply to this study. The views and opinions of respondents are a form of qualitative data. Qualitative information helps to uncover the meaning and importance of human experiences and behaviours (Silverman 2010). As a result, it can be used to comprehend the views of women concerning the various factors that contribute to or hinder their progression to leadership positions. The qualitative research paradigm is a critical aspect of studying human behaviour. The conduct of individuals is influenced by their setting, and research must examine the issue in their situations. Taylor, Bogdan and DeVault (2015) assert that research must occur in the environment where all contextual variables are operational. Individuals cannot comprehend human behaviour unless they understand the framework within which participants interpret their feelings, actions and thoughts. Qualitative data allows the social construction of reality (Taylor, Bogdan and DeVault 2015). Thus, the qualitative research paradigm is a useful approach in this study.


Social construction will be a major theoretical approach in this analysis. Social construction of gender promotes the idea that culture and religion develop gender roles, and the roles are described as ideal or fitting behaviour of persons of a specific gender (Butler 2011). Thus, the social construction theory can be used to examine the way changes in the cultural and religious beliefs of the people of Saudi Arabia can progress the rise of women to leadership positions. To understand the scope and purpose of a qualitative study Yilmaz, (2013) defines such method as one that is concerned with process, context, interpretation, meaning or under- standing through inductive reasoning. Through communication with the participants undertaking the study and providing us with the obstacles that they had to endure throughout their journey through the questionnaire. Therefore, this illustrates the importance of having some open-ended questions for the participants to allow them to provide us with insights on what it took them to be in the position they are in now. To ultimately, provide us with a general view of what is happening within their respective organisations and provide us with meaning at a personal level Yilmaz, (2013). Specific questions are to be articulated for participants to answer questions relating to the issues that they may face in the working world. All the while encouraging them to add any other experiences or perspectives that can help the study to be more thorough and allow the questionnaire to be one that is semi structured rather than one with strict guidelines that may not reflect the female’s true journey in Saudi Arabia. Such technique will result in more detail that will allow the study to be more accurate as it represents the true nature of how females feel when facing such barriers and will ultimately assist the research in establishing the various ways in which females can overcome such hindrances throughout their careers. In this regard, the study will employ a mixed methods approach to the investigation of the topic.

Such technique is known as the attitudinal research approach, this means that the researcher will try to locate a pattern or try to develop a theory that will back up the information that was gathered, this method is otherwise known as a subjective method.

The way in which the questionnaire will be set up is through open-ended questions that allow the participants to express themselves and provide answers that they view as a representation of their experiences. Other questions that have options for participants to choose from, will include a section within those questions labelled as ‘other’ with enough space for them to add any other information that they may view as important and helpful to analyze the study undertaken. As the research undertaken involves the analysis of the progression of females into leadership positions, the method used to evaluate such perceptions will be in the form of questionnaires. The semi-structured qualitative research method will include questions that will allow set topics to be discussed that includes social/political/religious related matters. Participants can add any other qualitative information relating to those set topics to allow participants to provide us with an in-depth insight of their journey to determine what are the root causes of such phenomena.

Using the qualitative research method together with quantitative method allows the questionnaire to collect comprehensive data that can be used to examine the topic and achieve the goal of the research, which is to ultimately will develop recommendations that may benefit them in the future. The purpose of the mixed methods technique is that it allows the participants to answer questions quickly and the qualitative information can be used to confirm the findings of the research. Thus, questions that gather qualitative data enable respondents to answer questions how they see fit and provide them with the opportunity to elaborate more on their answers, which lead them to expressing themselves freely, Bogdan (1972). On the other hand, quantitative information permits higher objectivity and accuracy of the results. Thus, the mixed methods approach is suitable for this investigation.

Research Sampling Procedure

Since Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, is one of the country’s largest cities and biggest economy, a sample will be considered to analyse all spectrums of an organisations structure, both in public and private sectors  that represents the female workforce in Saudi Arabia. A sample of 300 participants will be undertaken, identifying women, working in senior roles in the private business sector, another sample of the participants will be from the public business sector, with additional partakers from both public and private educational sectors. Other participants will be made up from mid T level/low T level females from all four different sectors respectfully. This will in return provide sufficient basis to the journey’s females entail within the Saudi labour force. Therefore, purposive sampling will be used in this study. Purposive sampling involves the collection of data from information-rich sources to gain the best understanding of a subject (Daniel 2011). In this case, purposeful sampling will allow the gathering of information from women who have knowledge of the issues that hinder or promote their rise to leadership roles.

According to Graziano & Raulin, (2010), the major concerns with sampling is whether the relationship between a given pair of variables is the same in all segments of the population. In correlation to this study’s context, will male and females, perspectives be helpful when conducting this research be of importance. The answer to that is no. The reason being is that the purpose of the study is to understand the journey that females have gone through to reach their respective positions and the hindrances that may have occurred to them on their journey. In this context, gender is considered as a moderator variable, Sorrentino et al., (2005) and one that will impact the study negatively as the views of males in Saudi Arabia will not reflect the journey of their gender counterpart. Therefore, involving female participants that are from different backgrounds in terms of area of study and cultural upbringing will add value to the search as the mind-set, mentality and approach to tackling situations from one another vary, allowing the research to reflect a diverse outlook on the issues that females may encounter in the work place.

It is important to mention that such data could be viewed as limited as it only captures what the people from a certain city, i.e. Jeddah, experience on their journey to the top rather than the Saudi nation as a whole. As there are less developed cities than Jeddah within the KSA, the hardship females endure can be very different to those of which live and work in Jeddah. The reason behind allowing for the sampling procedure to be on that involves different aspects of the female workforce in Saudi Arabia is due to the fact that all members partaking the questionnaire would have experienced different journeys throughout their working/studying life. This in return will allow for the data analysed to be one that not only replicates one certain demographic. Involving females that have worked in the public sector, private sector and educational sector from junior level staff to directors and principals within their respective organisations, will allow for a more cohesive analysis and one that reflects the females population as a whole due to the dissimilar journeys that they encounter in the economy within Saudi Arabia.

To highlight and attract such participants that will be the right fit to undertake the study on will not be very difficult, as I have created a healthy network within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia from working in the Middle East for 3 years. The relationships established with various professionals will be useful in gaining the willingness of the participants to provide data. The researcher will approach individuals who fit the requirements of the participants and enlist them in the process of identifying more people suitable to the research. The help gained from the individuals will allow the investigator to provide the questionnaire. Sending the questionnaires can now be completed through E- systems rather than through hard copies, which in return will eliminate any hardship that can come from sending and receiving those questionnaires. Electronic systems reduce the cost of printing hard copies and avoid the need of the researcher to move to different locations to issue and collect questionnaires. Therefore, the approach is a cost effective method for this study. However as the nature of the topic can be one that is viewed as very sensitive, a sample of those questions will have to be reviewed by my subordinates to indicate if the relative information included in the questionnaires are applicable. More importantly, the questions included must avoid causing any disputes or offense to those partaking in the questionnaire and the organisations they are employed in respectively. The goal is to avoid gathering any information that might expose the business secrets of the organisations where the respondents work. Furthermore, the questions should not offend the individuals that could lead to resistance in providing the information needed for this study.

The questionnaires will be undertaken in either Arabic or English (dependent upon the participant’s choice), this will then allow the participants to answer freely and be able to get their message across the best way they know how. However, there may be some critics of such technique, as to why not have all participants undertake the questionnaire in Arabic, as it is the first language in Saudi Arabia. This boils down to the fact that there are families within the Saudi community that imbed the English language into their children so that it benefits them in the long run, leading to their Arabic being at a slight disadvantage (Alsairi 2018). The researcher is fluent in the Arabic language and can undertake the translation process. In this case, the investigator will employ parse trees in the translation process. Parse trees represent syntactic structures that follows a specified grammar approach (Grune and Jacobs 2007). The goal is to avoid creating ambiguity in the translation process which could adversely affect the interpretation process. If a questionnaire is to be filled out by a participant in Arabic, it is very important to consider the way in which such questionnaire is translated. The reason being is for the study to be analysed correctly, the information gathered from such participants must be ones that reflect their true meaning behind their personal and respective answers. Bogucki et al., (2015) backs this viewpoint by stating that translating text word for word will almost certainly not bring out the true meaning of a particular text, however interpreting a sentence or a paragraph as a whole will guide the translator to understand what the participating parties are conveying and in return be able to interpret the true meaning behind them. Therefore, involving a professional body that will translate the questions in the questionnaire and decipher the answers in Arabic is a crucial part of the study to avoid any loss of meaning on both parties.


Data analysis


Achieving all the objectives of the research will aid in opening more opportunities to Saudi females and increase the number of female workforce to progress through the corporate ladder to reach senior management roles in Saudi Arabia. The data gathered will be analysed through a qualitative approach, this will then involve a coding scheme to analyse the data provided. This will typically entail the transformation of the gradual notes in the data into a code, this is then compromised of what is known as a secondary code level, Coffey and Atkinson (1996) where it provides much more awareness of the content of what is said by the Participant. The themes will reflect what females in Saudi Arabia view as real issues in the progression of the their workforce in the past/today’s Saudi economy. However, it is important to note that when it comes to the qualitative data being coded, there is wide criticism from theorists that by only answering questions with agree/neither/disagree and all in between can result in the social setting can being lost. Coffey and Atkinson (1996). Since the researcher will also collect quantitative information, the data will also be examined. In this case, the investigator will employ Microsoft Excel to input data and present it using pie charts. Every row in the Excel will represent a value, and it will be used to present the views of the participants concerning a particular issue in the questionnaire.



To ensure that the research is executed ethically, there are steps that should be taken in order to avoid any breaches of backlash to either researcher, these include:

  • As mentioned earlier, the semi-structured questionnaire can be undertaken in any setting the participants choose as it will sent to them through email. This means that the participants can access the questionnaire from where ever they see fit. This will then in return allow for the participants to complete the form in the right frame of mind and hopefully be able to provide more information and the experience they been through.
  • The participants will be given an account of all the notes drawn up to ensure the information they provided is not misconstrued, followed by access to the final outcome of the research taken to allow them to see what their efforts have led to & how they will benefit the Saudi economy in the long run.
  • The data transcription service (if used) will have a data protection that will enable encryption of the data once uploaded as a security measure to avoid any sensitive information from being viewed by third party.
  • Finally, and most important, Consent from the participants in order to use their data. Before undertaking the questionnaire all participants must read the instructions, where there will be a statement that states that ‘by agreeing to complete this questionnaire you give consent for Ahmed Khoudari (Me) to use your data to complete the research. This section will also disclose information that informs the participants that maintaining the confidentiality of the records is a priority and that it will prevent any disclosures of their identities. The reason for such action is that it will allow contributors to feel that they are in a safe place and no repercussions will incur upon them after completing the questionnaire. The form will also state that all part takers can withdraw from the study at any time even after the data is collected, this in return will put the part takers at ease to answer freely.



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