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Women and leadership: challenges and opportunities in Saudi higher education

Jouharah M. Abalkhail (Institute of Public Administration, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to examine women managers’ perceptions of forces influencing their career progression to leadership positions in Saudi Arabian higher education (HE).


A qualitative, interpretive approach is adopted for analysing in-depth interviews with women managers in Saudi HE.


The findings of this study provide an in-depth understanding of Saudi women’s experience in management in HE. This study shows that women face a number of challenges preventing them from achieving equitable representation in leadership positions; conversely, they do have some opportunities which help them in their careers. Additionally, it provides more explanation of how the macro factors trickle down to the organizational level to shape organizational process and practices, and have an impact on women accessing leadership positions. Furthermore, this study suggests that socio-cultural background does matter when studying women in management in the Saudi context.

Research limitations/implications

The paper, mainly focussing on women managers in Saudi HE, gives a clear picture of women’s careers and influencing factors.

Practical implications

The research has implications for government and other related institutions to formulate effective policies and appropriate strategies to help Saudi women access leadership posts.


The novelty of this paper is in its focus on the under-researched topic of careers of Saudi women managers. The paper is also valuable as it emphasizes the societal context for researchers wishing to study women’s careers in the Arab world.



The author would like to thank the editors and the anonymous reviewers for their encouraging and constructive comment on this paper.


Abalkhail, J.M. (2017), "Women and leadership: challenges and opportunities in Saudi higher education", Career Development International, Vol. 22 No. 2, pp. 165-183.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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