Purpose The purpose of this paper is to examine the obstacles to women's advancement in Saudi Arabia. The paper addresses the question ‘what are women’s experiences of becoming leaders and what influences their leadership practice ?’ It does this by drawing on gender and Middle Eastern literature, as well as empirical evidence of the perceptions, experience and challenges of women in Saudi. Design/methodology/approach The study contributes a consideration of the academic literature, supported by empirical findings from 25 interviews with professional women in Saudi Arabia. The data identifies the perceptions, experiences and challenges of professional women in Saudi. It concludes by outlining the practical need for the review and promotion of policies to eradicate inequalities in the workplace. Findings The data shows that the challenges faced by professional women in Saudi Arabia are social, religious, cultural and organisational. The findings reveal that women’s relationship to self, others, place and work are key influencers in how they perceive and experience leadership. The findings also indicate the need for a review and promotion of policies to eradicate inequalities which prevent women becoming leaders. Research limitations/implications The research limitations are that it focuses on a small number of professional women in Saudi Arabia (n=25). However, Saudi Arabia is a country where research access is difficult, therefore this research has significant implications for beginning to understand women and their experience of leadership in Saudi. It also addresses a gap in the scant research which does exist in this area. Practical implications The study highlights that unless significant barriers are removed women will not progress to higher leadership positions in organizations.The future role of women as leaders in Saudi Arabia will require society, organizations, and women themselves to change the traditional role-expectations of women. The article considers what can be done to create a more levelled platform for women to operate in organisations at senior levels. Originality/value This study contributes to enriching the gender and leadership literature in a country that has been poorly addressed so far. Its originality lies in the context of Saudi Arabia. The research is significant in that, in examining women’s perceptions of the challenges and opportunities of leadership in the workplace it provides an understanding of women’s experience of leadership in Saudi that has not previously been considered in the literature on women in the Middle East. This study therefore contributes to understanding the how and why of leadership by listening to the ways in which women learn and practise leadership.
Hodges, J. (2017). Cracking the walls of leadership: women in Saudi Arabia. Gender in Management: An International Journal, 32(1), 34-46. https://doi.org/10.1108/gm-11-2015-0106