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Women in management : identifying constraints on progression into senior management in the public sector in Saudi Arabia

Abalkhail, Jouharah Mohammad A.


Jouharah Mohammad A. Abalkhail


Kevin Orr

Barbara, 1954 Allan


Within a global context of huge social, political and economic changes, this research explores the phenomenon of female under-representation in senior management in the public sector in Saudi Arabia. In recent years, the participation of women in the labour force worldwide has increased and women generally are continuing to gain professional recognition. Nevertheless, they remain under-represented in management, particularly at senior level. This study investigates the perceptions and experiences of a group of female managers in an attempt to identify those factors that either constrain or facilitate their careers. The women are also invited to offer suggestions about how their career opportunities can be improved. The study is qualitative and it is based on a phenomenological/interpretive approach. Data were gathered using in-depth semi-structured interviews with 28 female managers drawn from three organizations in the Saudi public sector in which there is a high concentration of female employees.

The study findings reveal that women in Saudi public sector organizations are marginalized and excluded from key senior management positions. This situation is due to the fact that the women face a number of inter-related constraints, beginning with socialization in the religion-influenced family and education systems, which in turn, generates rigidly stereotyped gender role behaviours and expectations. This gender stereotyping is reflected in the structure and culture of organizations and it shapes the personalities and attitudes of the women themselves. Yet in spite of these constraints, the participants also reported a number of positive factors, namely, access to education, strong family networks, including support from male family members, the women’s own competencies, aspirations and improved access to the global world. It emerged that a complex and intertwined relation existed between the constraints and the facilitating factors. In order to illustrate this complexity and to create a greater understanding of the way in which these factors affect women’s access to management level positions, I have proposed a new framework: the social-institutional system, organization and gender. This study also makes a number of suggestions to improve women’s career opportunities. For example, political actions to overcome gender stereotypes and traditional attitudes, which can be achieved through the education system, the media and ‘joined-up thinking’ between various institutions; professional training and development programmes; family-friendly work policies, and proactivity on women’s part to build networks and demonstrate competence.


Abalkhail, J. M. A. (2012). Women in management : identifying constraints on progression into senior management in the public sector in Saudi Arabia. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Oct 1, 2015
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Business
Public URL
Additional Information Business School, The University of Hull
Award Date Jul 1, 2012


Thesis (16.2 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2012 Abalkhail, Jouharah Mohammad A. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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