Half of Saudi residents recently surveyed by leading management consulting firm, Kearney, see the future leader of their current organization to be a woman, with 54% highlighting that more women in leadership roles will positively impact the business. The study conducted ahead of International Women’s Day 2023 explored the sentiment around women in leadership positions, the path to progress and the challenges faced, highlighting that while there have been positive strides towards a more equitable work environment, leaders in the private sector still have work to do to pave the way for female talent.

In the past five years, the Kingdom has introduced and implemented several policies and initiatives that support inclusivity and diversity aimed at facilitating women’s entry into the labor market. In 2022, female labor participation reached 37% , up from 17% in 2016, highlighting significant progress in this area. The recent study by Kearney reveals that women’s ambitions are high, with 76% stating that the opportunity to progress to top leadership positions is key for them. While 71% of the women surveyed feel they have opportunities to lead at their workplace, 81% claim it’s difficult for them to get the support they need to take on such roles.

“Vision 2030 places an emphasis on the growing role of women in the national economy. The unparalleled spike in female participation in the workforce is driven by the legislations and host of national initiatives,” commented Wiam Hasanain, Director at Kearney Middle East & Africa. “The research revealed business leaders harbor unconscious biases, that affect hiring, promotion, and retainment of women. Organizations have a responsibility to rid their HR systems of such biases, enabling a competent and diverse set of leaders at the table in the future.”

When questioned on how their organization supports their career development, only a quarter (25%) claimed that they receive regular training and development and 24% said they are offered opportunities for regular career reviews and/or promotions. When asked about the challenges faced, a third (33%) of women stated their workplace goals are too ambitious, 21% felt the organizational culture at their current workplace does not encourage them to lead, and 19% stated they face discrimination by their coworkers.

Having a leadership team that is genuinely committed to diversity and inclusion was flagged as a key priority for 74% of respondents (both men and women), emphasizing the important role that current business leaders play in accelerating the achievement of a more diverse and equitable workplace. 61% reveal their current organization has diversity, equity, and inclusion targets, including having more women at the board level. However, only 15% of those claim that these have been publicly announced. A quarter (24%) believe the organization does not have such targets.

“Currently, it is not mandated for private sector companies to publicly state their targets around having a more inclusive workforce, however, it is an important step towards instilling accountability. This will ensure that the leadership team proactively works towards hiring and nurturing female talent to provide them with the skills, tools and opportunities needed to progress, ultimately contributing to the development of the local economy in support of Vision 2030, as well as the realization the UN SDG Goal 5 of achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls,” concluded Norah Alajaji, Manager at Kearney Middle East.