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Breaking the Glass Ceiling in Saudi Arabia Report



The topic of inability by women to break the glass ceiling has ignited heated debates among scholars who seek to explain the causes of the phenomenon. Some scholars argue that the problem is the women themselves owing to the reluctance to advance their careers (Coleman 2010). On the other side, others attribute the problem to male dominance, which denies women the chance to ascend to the different leadership positions.

Research on the actual causes of the ceiling is limited even though most scholars agree that male dominance in senior positions is evident in most societies. In Saudi Arabia, the problem is persistent with only a few women holding senior positions in both the public and private sectors.

This paper shall make a proposal for a research aimed at uncovering the reasons why the country has been left behind in terms of women empowerment as opposed to the western countries. The paper shall explain the research methodology to be used while conducting the study.

Problem statement

The majority of Saudi Arabian women hold junior positions in the business sector. The persistence of the glass ceiling has not received much attention from researchers thus derailing the process of breaking it. This research shall be based on the problem of the glass ceiling that hinders women from ascending to powerful positions in Saudi Arabia.

Research objectives

Although women in many Western countries have managed to break the ceiling by ascending to powerful positions, women in Saudi Arabia have remained reluctant about leadership. Research about the causes of the slow pace is limited thus the need to add to the knowledge.

In that regard, the objective of this research will be to unearth the setbacks faced by Saudi Arabian women in their attempts to break the ceiling. The study shall use both quantitative and qualitative methods to investigate the issue. The study shall seek to investigate whether the management approach explains the delayed breakage of the glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia.

Literature Review

In most developed countries, women make up 50% of the workforce (Metcalfe 2008). Additionally, a good number of female workers get into leadership positions in the contemporary workplace environments. However, in some countries, only small groups, if any, of female workers, manage to get into leadership positions. Most women serve in junior capacities in the male-dominated leadership. In developing countries, women are poorly represented in leadership positions.

For many years, leadership positions have been reserved for men while women perform supportive roles. The problem is compounded by the stereotypes that exist among communities and different cultures (Ladin 2007).

In most cultures, women are perceived to be minors who are entitled to perform household tasks. In the recent past, various countries in the world have come up with policies aimed at supporting women to assume the leadership position. However, such laws have faced stiff opposition from males and entrepreneurs who are unwilling to accept female leaders.

According to Sadi and Al-Ghazali (2010), women leaders in the G7 countries (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK, and USA), female leaders make only about 21% of senior managers. The problem is far much worse in developing countries where women are not only barred from taking leadership positions, but they are not also represented in the workforce.

Though the number of female workers has grown tremendously in the past few decades, only a few women have managed to break the glass. Apparently, in the past, women have been victimized in terms of education attainment with only a small fraction of women finding their way to the institutions of higher learning.

Hamdan (2005) attributes the problem to the low education levels attained by women across the globe. Most enterprises consider the level of education when recruiting managers and other senior employees of their respective companies. Therefore, poor education among the women workforce may be a cause for the poor representation of females in leadership.

In Saudi Arabia, women make about 50% of the total university graduates (Mazawi 2005). Despite the high number of female graduates, only about 13% of women are employed in both the public and the private sector (Augsburg, Claus, & Randeree 2009). However, women in the country are slowly breaking the glass.

For the first time in the history, two women from Saudi Arabia appeared in the Fortune’s International list of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business (Shmailan 2014). Despite the impressive move, the pace in which women are ascending to the leadership position is slow as compared to that of other countries.

Zamberi (2011) attributes the glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia to differences and discrepancies in socially accepted behaviors between men and women. Men are perceived to be outspoken, belligerent, and ambitious compared to women who are perceived to be less aggressive and calm. In that regard, women are seen to lack leadership qualities due to deficiencies in the command trait.

Some scholars argue that gender stereotypes also impose a glass ceiling on women empowerment. In Saudi Arabia, women are perceived to be caretakers who their roles are restricted to taking care of their husbands and children (Dahlerup 2009). These stereotypes compound the problem since they deny women a chance to advance their careers. However, Sidani (2005) disputes the view and attributes the problem to the reluctance of women to take up leadership position for fear of victimization.

Gender disparity has also been cited as one of the greatest barriers to the realization of women empowerment in Saudi Arabia. A Saudi Arabian woman is viewed as an incompetent person, who cannot make a viable decision on her own, and she must be guided by a man (Sadi & Al-Ghazali 2012).

The advisor may be a father, husband, or any other male. The Muslim-based laws applicable in the country bar women from participating in certain occasions without the consent of a guardian. A Saudi Arabian woman, for example, cannot marry without an approval from the parents. All the mentioned views are indicative of the barriers culture places on women development.

Lastly, the Saudi Arabian government has also contributed to the slow pace in breaking the glass ceiling. The successive regimes have failed to enact legislations to empower women in the society. The country does not have written laws, and the Islamic laws that oppress women govern it.

Research approval

The institutional review board requires that any research involving human subjects be approved before its commencement (Gnanadesikan 2011). In that regard, an application will be forwarded to the authorities seeking approval to conduct the research.

Null hypothesis

The null hypothesis for the study shall be “The glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia is not facilitated by the management approach, but other forces.”

Alternative hypothesis

The alternative hypothesis for this research shall be “The glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia is facilitated by the management approach.”


Both qualitative and quantitative research methods shall be invoked to obtain highly reliable results of the problem under investigation. The qualitative method will involve the use of interviews together with questionnaires to obtain both supporting and opposing views.

Quantitative method, on the other hand, shall center on an analysis of the literature to compose a report on the findings from different researchers. The use of both methods will ensure that all the aspects of the research are explored and it will allow for the generalization of the results.


The study shall recruit 500 participants from Saudi Arabia. The subjects shall be recruited through the social media, which include Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter. A participant will be required to have attained the majority age of 18 years to qualify for inclusion in the study. Besides, the participants must be Saudi Arabian nationals who are currently residing in the country.

Although the research will focus on the glass ceiling hindering women from ascending to the leadership positions, men shall be recruited for the study. However, a majority of participants will be female since they are deemed to understand the controversy better as compared to their male counterparts.

The recruits must be of sound mind to facilitate accuracy of information given. Fluency in the English language shall not be considered as inclusion criteria. However, study group must have basic computer skills with the ability to send and retrieve emails. Women in the business sector shall have the priority in the recruitment process.


No financial or other benefits will be payable to participants for agreeing to participate in the study. However, all members shall be reimbursed for all the expenses incurred during the period of participation. Airtime costs will be given to the clients to facilitate communication.

Informed consent

The law requires that all participants in a study provide informed consent before participating in the study. In that regard, every participant shall be informed of the purpose of the study as well as his or her rights during and after the study. The following is a list of information that will be availed to participants prior to the commencement of the study:

  1. Their rights during and after the study
  2. Their right to quit the study before completion
  3. The purpose of the study
  4. The importance of the study
  5. Confidentiality of the information given

After full disclosure of the information listed above, the participants shall be required to fill in a form that will include a declaration clause that he/she has willingly accepted to participate without duress.


The study must consider the ethics of data confidentiality. Data given by the participants shall be used for the purpose for which it was collected and not for any other use (Ramsey & Schafer 2012). The participants shall be contacted through Skype to ensure that the information is confidential. The names of the participants shall not be revealed in either the interviews or the questionnaires.

Qualitative method

Data collection

Data collection through the qualitative method shall involve interviews with the participants. To comply with the principle of confidentiality, interviews shall be conducted online via Skype. Each interview shall last for 30 minutes in which the respondent will be required to answer the various questions posed. The interviews shall be recorded for screening and sampling later in the next stage. The following is a list of the probable questions for the interview:

  1. Does management approach in Saudi Arabia impose a glass ceiling, why?
  2. Would you take a leadership position in a men dominated workforce?
  3. Are there other reasons that bar women from assuming leadership positions?
  4. What is the role of culture in the glass ceiling?
  5. Would you embrace a woman leader in your organization (for men)?

Data analysis

Data recorded during the interviews shall be transcribed with the information given in the Arabic language translated into English. The translation process will be carefully done to ensure that the content remains as much original as possible. The data will then be processed through NVivo-10, software designed to analyze data in a qualitative research setting (Gnanadesikan 2011). The data shall be carefully studied using the comparative analytic method to uncover the main points.

Similar points shall be identified and assigned same codes after which they will be grouped together as a theme. The themes shall then be entered into the software for conversion into Nodes, in NVivo-10, by appending selected references derived from the interviews. The software is equipped with various data analysis techniques such as cluster analysis, tree mapping, and word tree that will facilitate the presentation of data in a more meaningful manner.


Questionnaires shall be used together with the interviews to explore every aspect of the issue in question. The questionnaires shall be served to the participants through their respective email addresses. The participants shall fill in the questions given and send back the completed files to the email provided.

The questions shall be framed in such a way that they will attract a brief explanation of the issue in question. The personal phone numbers of the participants shall be taken for easier communication during the study. The questionnaire shall take the following format:

Question Strongly agree Agree Disagree Strongly disagree
1.Glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia is facilitated by the management approach
2.Other factors and not the management approach facilitate the glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia
If your answer is “(strongly) disagree” in the first question, kindly give the other factors that you think are linked to the glass ceiling
If your answer to the second question is a ‘(strongly) agree’ list the factors that you attribute to the glass ceiling

Data analysis

Descriptive Statistics

Data collected from questionnaires shall be transferred to a spreadsheet. The question numbers shall form the column while the answers shall form the row headings. Each answer shall then be assigned a special code. The data will then be counterchecked for errors and inaccuracies corrected.

The spreadsheet shall automatically analyze the responses and make the necessary calculations of the number of people who gave different answers. The data shall then be presented in graphs and other forms of charts for easier interpretation. The results obtained shall be explained, and the findings will be generalized.

Quantitative methods

Data collection

A collection of data using the quantitative method shall involve a review of the literature regarding the issue of glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia. A meta-analysis of the literature shall be conducted, and the findings by various researchers integrated to come up with a comprehensive report on the issue. The articles to be reviewed shall be obtained from databases such as Ingenta, CINAHL, Medline, and PsychINFO using keywords such as “glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia” and “Saudi Arabia’s women leaders”.

Selection of the literature

All articles addressing the issue of the glass ceiling in Saudi Arabia shall be considered for the study. However, for an item to qualify for inclusion, it will have to pass the following inclusion criteria:

  1. The article must have been written within the last ten years from the date of research
  2. The article must be premised on findings from either a qualitative or quantitative research

In the first stage, all articles exploring the issue of glass ceiling shall be selected. The articles shall then be divided into two groups based on the arguments presented. Articles supporting management approach as the barrier to women empowerment shall be put in the same category.

The second group will be composed of articles that dispute the presence of such a connection. The two classes of articles shall be reviewed concurrently, and the evidence obtained from the review documented awaiting further screening in the next phase. Each category shall be comprised of at least five articles with similar findings.

Data analysis

The conclusions made by different authors regarding the research question shall be analyzed and documented. Specific sentences containing supporting and opposing views shall be extracted from the articles to be used in the final report. A report shall be composed analyzing all the evidence presented by the various authors.

Significance of the research

The globalized economies coupled with the stiffening competition in the business sector have elevated the need to embrace workforce diversity. Economists argue that for the global economy to thrive, all the people must be involved. Women make up to 50% of the population hence their empowerment is critical if the world’s economy targets are to be achieved (Ramsey & Schafer 2012).

This study seeks to unravel the challenges that Saudi Arabian women face in their attempts to break the glass ceiling. It will offer the recommendation that if implemented may boost women involvement in leadership positions.

Previous work by other scholars indicates that indeed a glass ceiling exists within the Saudi Arabian business environment. This study investigates the connection between the management approach and the severity of the ceiling on Saudi Arabia. The topic is of great significance, as it will add to the existing knowledge regarding the issue.

The research comes against the backdrop of calls from the international community to empower women to achieve equality. The findings of the research may be used as the basis on which the process of women empowerment may be handled. Moreover, the research shall form a platform on which future researchers can use to research further on the controversial topic.

Study limitations

Inasmuch as the study is important as it increases knowledge about the barriers to women advancement in different leadership positions in Saudi Arabia, it will be subject to some setbacks. Firstly, the participants’ recruitment will be a complicated process since not all women will accept to give personal information (Ghorbani & Tung 2007).

Language barrier may also limit the research since not all participants are fluent with the English language. Some essential information may be lost in the process of translating the information acquired through interviews from the Arabic to the English language. The sample size for this study may not be large enough to allow for generalization of the results given that recruiting a large sample will mean increased cost.


The topic of glass ceiling has ignited heated debate among scholars who seek to unravel the actual causes of the vice. Most scholars have argued that the culture of Saudi Arabian communities is the greatest barrier to women empowerment. However, they have not attempted to study the connection between the weak women empowerment and the management approach. The research described in this paper seeks to establish the role of the management approach in subjecting women to the ceiling.

The research shall use both quantitative and qualitative study methods for accuracy and reliability of the results. The qualitative method shall involve the use of interviews and questionnaires that will be designed to attract participants’ views regarding the causes of the controversy. Both men and women shall be recruited for the study to acquire varying views of the topic.

The survey shall be conducted online to ensure compliance with the confidentiality principle. Five hundred (500) participants shall be recruited for the study. One will have to be a Saudi Arabian national living in the country to qualify for inclusion in the study. Moreover, he/she must be computer literate and competent to give the required information. A signed consent document shall be needed before participation in the research.

Reference List

Augsburg, K, Claus, A & Randeree, K 2009, Leadership and the Emirati woman: breaking the glass ceiling in the Arabian Gulf, LIT Verlag Münster, Berlin.

Coleman, I 2010, ‘The global glass ceiling,’ Foreign Affairs, vol. 89, no. 3, pp. 13-20.

Dahlerup, D 2009, ‘Women in Arab Parliaments,’ Gender Quotas and Parliamentary Representation, vol. 126, no. 12, pp. 28-32.

Ghorbani, M & Tung, R 2007, ‘Behind the veil: an exploratory study of the myths and realities of women in the Iranian workforce,’ Human Resource Management Journal, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 376-392.

Gnanadesikan, R 2011, Methods for statistical data analysis of multivariate observations, John Wiley & Sons, New York.

Hamdan, A 2005, ‘Women and Education in Saudi Arabia: Challenges and Achievements,’ International Education Journal, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 42-64.

Ladin, C 2007, Inside the kingdom: My life in Saudi Arabia, Grand Central Publishing, New York.

Mazawi, E 2005, Contrasting perspectives on higher education governance in the Arab States, Springer, New York.

Metcalfe, B 2008, ‘Women, management and globalization in the Middle East,’ Journal of Business Ethics, vol. 83, no. 1, pp. 85-100.

Ramsey, F & Schafer, D 2012, The statistical sleuth: a course in methods of data analysis, Cengage Learning, Boston.

Sadi, M & Al-Ghazali, B 2010, ‘Doing business with impudence: A focus on women entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia,’ African Journal of Business Management, vol. 4, no. 1, pp. 1-11.

Sadi, M & Al-Ghazali, B 2012, The dynamics of entrepreneurial motivation among women: A comparative study of businesswomen in Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, Springer New York.

Shmailan, A 2014, ‘Female entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia: A comparison of barriers and motivations: moving from disenfranchisement to empowerment,’ Elite Research Journal of Education and Review, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 6-21.

Sidani, Y 2005, ‘Women, work, and Islam in Arab societies,’ Women in Management Review, vol. 20, no. 7, pp. 498-512.

Zamberi, S 2011, ‘Evidence of the characteristics of women entrepreneurs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia: An empirical investigation,’ International Journal of Gender and Entrepreneurship, vol. 3, no. 2, pp. 123-143.

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