Women in Saudi Arabia are just beginning to emerge in the workforce. The role of women in the workforce in Saudi Arabia has been mostly limited to either careers in education or the medical profession. Cultural factors such as gender segregation, transportation issues, and social perceptions of women working have been some of the major influences of keeping Saudi women out of fully joining the work force in full ranks, although the number of Saudi women in the Kingdom graduating with college degrees outnumbers their male counterparts. The Ministry of Labor (2010) reported that more than 80% of female Saudi college graduates with at least a bachelor’s degree are unemployed in the Kingdom. This number represents a significant amount of unused talent that is currently underutilized in the society.
For those unfamiliar with Saudi Arabia, the question may be asked “What is keeping women from joining the workforce?” There is not one specific reason, but instead of culmination of different social factors that have led to the limited employment of Saudi females in the Kingdom. Saudi Arabia’s government rule is based on a sect of Islam called Wahhabism, a more strict interpretation of Islam, which has been interpreted in the Kingdom in the form of gender segregation of males and females unless they are related to each other, or married. This has forced organizations that hire females and males both to develop work environments in which males and females are segregated and have limited contact. From a financial standpoint, one can understand the reticent behaviors of some organizations to hire women into an organization because of the special accommodations that must be given to the work environment to accommodate women in full force.
Another issue that has hampered the efforts of women to enter the workforce in full force surrounds the issue of women not being allowed to drive vehicles within the Kingdom. A woman must rely on a male family member, a private driver, or some type of private taxi service to ensure being able to arrive at her place of employment. Currently Saudi Arabia does not have a public transportation system, which would allows women to move freely in the cities. While this not may not pose a problem for women from the upper socio-economic classes of Saudi, who can afford a private driver, as well as the expense of having her own car, those with limited financial resources may find it difficult to afford having a personal private driver. In addition, even for the women who can afford the luxury of having a private driver (and this is speaking from my own experiences) there is nothing more frustrating than recruiting a driver from another country, paying the fees to have them brought to Saudi Arabia, only to have them disappear in the middle of the night to seek other employment.
The current changing economic and social factors in the Kingdom require that women be able to pursue employment. As the growing young population of Saudi Arabia has exploded, the practice of the majority of the citizens being supported by their families, or through government “gifts” is no longer practical. In addition, the divorce rate among Saudis has been estimated around 60%, one of the highest divorce rates in the world (Le Renard, 2013). A possible strategy for certain job classes of women would be allowing them to work from home. Most of the organizations within Saudi Arabia manage people that is similar to the time period of the industrial movement within the United States, where quantity produced( Greenberg, 2011), it considered superior over quality, although many of the organizations are trying to create knowledge based environment. Digital and internet services within Saudi Arabia has the highest rate of homes and usage of internet services of any other Arab country (Simism, 2011), making the practice of some women being able to work from home a transition that in terms of technological infrastructure, not difficult. As positions across the world continue to transcend into a more service, instead of production oriented type of work, a phone, computer, internet service, and a place to work in the home have facilitated the process of allowing employees to transfer their workplace from office space to home space (Turcotte, 2010).
Phillips, Phillips, & Robinson (2013) showed in their case of performance of individuals working at home that it increased productivity, decreased stress for employees because of removing the stress of the commute to work, as well as reduced traffic congestion by allowing employees to work remotely. In addition, organizations can benefit from this practice by reducing operating costs by reducing the space needed for office space, as well as increased employee performance, engagement, and reduced turnover. This would be especially promising in terms of Saudi Arabia because of the reports of low employee performance and engagement, as well as high rates of turnover with Saudi employees (Sadi & Al-Buraey, 2009).
This is an underutilized option to employing women within the Kingdom, but setting up the management and training of people working at home would be critical in implementing practices with organizations within the Kingdom. This option would open up careers, as well as organizations that have generally not been open to women because of the social stigma, or the reluctance of some organizations to hire women because of the issues regarding gender segregation. In addition, this would allow women to circumnavigate the transportation issue that continues to be a hurdle for many women, through either financial strains, or the on-going problem of losing a private driver and being unable to get to their place of employment.
Alharbi, (2010). Minister of Labor: 80% of unemployment graduates women and mechanisms to
Address obstacles to women’s work within 8 weeks. Alwatan. Retrieved from
Greenberg, J. (2011). Behavior in organizations (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Le Renard, A. (2013). Young urban saudi women’s transgressions of official rules and the production of a new social group. Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies, 9(3), 108-135.
Phillips, J., Phillips, P., & Robinson, R. (2013). A case study of ROI in organizational performance of working at home. Performance Improvement Quarterly, 25(4), 111-131.
Sadi, M. & Al-Buraey. (2009). A framework for the implemental process: The case of Saudiization. International Management Review, 5(1), 70-84. Retrieved from http://www.usimr.org/IMR-1-2009/v5n109-art6.pdf
Simsim, M. T. (2011). Internet usage and user preferences in Saudi Arabia. Journal of King Saud University-Engineering Sciences, 23(2), 101-107.
Turcotte, M. (2010). Working at home: An update. Canadian Social Trends, (91), 3-11.