The Struggle Between Cultural and Leadership Values of Women in Saudi Arabia: An Exploratory Study

Paper presented at the 3rd Biennial Women & Leadership Conference

Phillip Davieson
Presentation Date: 
Wednesday, June 14, 2017
Event or Conference: 
3rd Biennial ILA Women & Leadership Conference: Advancing Women in Leadership: Cultivating our Whole Selves
Presentation Type: 
Paper Presentation
Boyer's Domain: 
Presentation Location: 
Omega Institute
Rhinebeck, NY 12572
United States
In 2015, the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) requested assistance in a study of women in leadership roles within Saudi Arabia. The government has been actively promoting the idea of women as leaders since King Abdullah announced in 2011 that we would be adding women into the Shura, his royal advisory council. This study, started in late 2015, was an evaluation of women in leadership roles and involved a series of exploratory interviews over three rounds, with eleven participants. The research questions were focused on learning which values help women to be successful as leaders in Saudi Arabia, which social and cultural dynamics enable or inhibit their progress, and the organizational factors that are critical to their success (Al-Ahmadi, 2011) A survey of the literature was used to create an initial questionnaire of 20 questions. These 20 questions were used in the first round, and there were three participants. The intent was to validate the questions and the values discussed within the questions. The second round questions included 15 different questions, had five participants, and built off the findings of the first set of interviews. The final set of nine questions were designed to specifically focus on the themes that developed over the first two rounds, and involved three participants. The first three interviewees included a representative from the Saudi government, one from higher education, and one from the business community. Interviews were recorded and then transcribed, and textual analysis using QDA Miner 4.0 was used. Codes were generated, and codes were separated into categories and sub-categories. An initial thematic structure was developed, which served as the basis for the second round of questions. Six themes dominated the first round. These were personal qualities, relationships, values and ethics, personal goals and characteristics, family, and society and equality. The number of questions for round two were reduced to 15 and incorporated the themes developed in round one. Each of the 15 questions were open ended, and the interviewees were encouraged to elaborate on each. As before, the transcribed interviews were coded, categories and sub-categories developed, and themes evolved. Out of these extensive and lengthy interviews, seven themes eventually evolved, which were the focus of the final round. The final round of interviews included three highly place female Saudi leaders, one within the government of the KSA, one in the Ministry of Education, and one who worked at the highest levels of international finance. Nine open-ended questions were asked, drilling down on the seven themes that evolved from round two. The interviews were transcribed, textually analyzed, coded, categories and sub-categories created, and themes examined (Saldaña, 2009). Conceptual maps were developed for each of the three themes, based on responses from the participants (Davies, 2011). The conclusion of the study demonstrated that women in leadership roles in the KSA constantly run into conflict with the strong patriarchal culture of that country (Kark, 2014). Even though the government has actively sought to promote women into high levels of leadership, including the Shura, there is significant resistance (Rudman & Phelan, 2010). However, there is progress and women have been successful at attaining some high leadership positions with the government, education, and business. One of the biggest challenges, however, is that the strong cultural beliefs, often attributed only to men in the KSA, are tightly held by both genders.