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Institutional barriers to women’s employment in Saudi Arabia

Abeer Alfarran (College of Business, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia)
Joanne Pyke (College of Business, Victoria University, Melbourne, Australia)
Pauline Stanton (School of Management, RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 18 September 2018




The purpose of this paper is to explore the effectiveness of the Saudi employment programme “Nitaqat” in addressing institutional barriers to women’s employment in the Saudi private sector. The paper has a particular focus on the perspectives of unemployed women as the intended recipients of increased employment opportunities.


This paper adopts a qualitative approach, drawing on findings from face-to-face interviews conducted with two groups of stakeholders, government officials and unemployed Saudi women.


Four key findings are identified. First, the considerable cultural and regulatory barriers of a conservative society are resilient impediments to the success of Saudi employment policy. Second, discrimination against women is endemic in the Saudi society; however, it is largely unrecognised within the Saudi culture and often accepted by women themselves. Third, due to government regulations, cultural constraints and the gendered educational system, the private sector contributes to sustaining labour market segmentation through discriminatory practices. Finally, while a positive change is taking place in Saudi Arabia regarding women’s employment, it is incremental and uneven.


This paper provides new insights into the institutional barriers related to the labour force participation of Saudi women from the perspective of Saudi women themselves.



Alfarran, A., Pyke, J. and Stanton, P. (2018), "Institutional barriers to women’s employment in Saudi Arabia", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 37 No. 7, pp. 713-727.



Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018, Emerald Publishing Limited

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