Women and Employment: The Case of USA and Saudi Arabia


Research on women and participation in economic development has noted that women are still significantly under-represented at top level management in all types of organizations, all around the world. The fact that women make up half of the wok force but have struggled to reach to top level management, and board rooms illustrates how effective the society has discriminated their contribution. In the United States of America, women account for 46.5% of the labor force, 6.2% of Fortune 500 top earners, and 3% of top 500 Chief Executive Officers (CEOs). In American board rooms, women account for only 15 %. These figures, although low, are an improvement to the initial figures in 1970’s where women held much lower percentages of managerial and administrative positions. This is considered an injustice to women since it has been established that they make up more than half of the students in law schools, accounting professions, and business related courses. However, only 18% climb the ladder to become equity partners in law firms, and a further reduced 7% as chairmen, chief Executive Officers, and Chief Operation Officers. In Saudi Arabia, the situation is worse with the country being ranked 114 out of 115 countries with the worst gender gap index by the Global Gender Gap 2006 Report conducted by the World Economic Forum of 2006. Women contribute to less than 15% of the total employment opportunities that are available in the entire country. The paper looks at the reasons behind this poor trend of gender imbalance in United States of America and Saudi Arabia. It highlights the strategies to improve these figures and document advantages and disadvantages of having female CEOs.

Reasons for few women CEOs in United States of America and Saudi Arabia

There are a number of reasons behind the under-representation of women in top level management in the world. The following are cited by scholars and researchers as among the main reasons affecting specifically the low rise of women in top level management, in USA and Saudi Arabia: First, the evident reason behind the low number of CEOs in Saudi Arabia and United States of America is what can be termed as work mentality. Men are seen as task oriented, ready to give more hours and commitments to their work as compared to women who will devote almost equal time between their work and their families. Research has also shown that many women at managerial levels still take up a lot of family responsibilities than there male counterparts. Family responsibilities come in form of nurturing their families, spending time with their families on holidays, and prolonged maternity responsibilities. This family- work conflict meant that women were disadvantaged in delivering their full potentials at work place than their male counterparts. Men on the other hand averagely give more time to their careers and are always ready to sacrifice and devote more time to their careers. A study conducted by The Business Roundtable, an association of CEOs in United States of America, found out that the average CEO work for at least 58 hours per week and Fortune 500 CEOs work slightly more hours than the average CEOs. The findings also noted that men are willing not only to work for full hours but also, ready to give extra hours for the success of the company. However, Harvard Business School reports showed that only 38% of its females Master in Business Administration (MBA) graduates, expected to be senior managers in future, are willing to devote more time to their work than their families. Even well educated women expected to be representing women in the American boardrooms, admit that they prefer working as part-timers even on a well paying job, so as to create time for home, family, and friends. A comparatively low numbers of women than men are ready to work for over than 58 hours a week and to take office work to their homes or even attend an extensive work professional development programs during evenings and holidays. Faced with such statistics, many women find themselves excluded in these top management positions as many employers are only willing to work with charismatic individuals ready to give extra hours to ensure that the company is growing. Secondly, there is the stereotype mentality in the society in which women are expected by the outside world to participate and contribute only to some specific roles. There is an international perspective that seems to think and perceive that male characteristics are seen appropriate for managers and senior offices while women seen as playing supportive roles. To reinforce this, some researchers have noted that the positive male stereotype hold across many culture. These male dominated stereotypes are worse in Saudi Arabia, a country whose culture do not allow even successful women to own cars. Those who manage to run banks and financial institutions are cut off from the rest of Saudi Arabian society. This so far has meant those capable women in terms of qualifications and capabilities but who wish to live within the society’s norms and regulations sacrifice their positions. Research has reinforced the stereotype that male are activity oriented and competent, compared to females who are seen as communal, nurturing, and supporting. These negative stereotypes of women limit them by creating environments that are unwelcome to women for progression at place of work. The society has had specific norms they want to perpetuate from generations to generations. People brought up with these norms expect men and women to perform specific roles and duties and thus men are expected to act like ‘men’ and women like ‘women’ consequently disadvantaging women especially in decision-making process. A woman whose acts are contrary to these set norms, who makes company decisions, and tough in her decisions is seen as living a male- like lifestyle and those who conform to these laws end up failing as firm managers reducing their chances of rising to become senior members of firms. Thirdly, the preferred traditional style of leadership for managers and top level CEOs is another reason for few women on top management positions. As already mentioned leadership positions require aggressiveness, passion for a given work, confidence, and competence in what one does. These characters are assumed to be more with the males than females. The traditional command and control type of leadership which relies on toughness and intimidation to manage organizations tends to favor men than female CEOs. Fourthly, the women’s character and attitude of timidness has cost a number of women who could be in top management. Some successful women lack the competitive attitude, are self actualized at their low levels and never participate in recruitment processes that require applications for top management positions and subsequent interviews. They rarely apply for these positions and therefore end up remaining as subordinates and not mangers. Most women already in employment fail in putting themselves in right positions to make it to top levels as many are busy working and forget to play the visibility game. They rarely know what happens in the next level(s) and as a result, often get bypassed for promotion as the men are busy playing golf or having social evening to catch the favor of their bosses who under employment Acts should be people interviewing and deciding on who becomes a senior manager. Fifth factor, affecting especially United States of America, is thought to be what many think as ‘glass ceiling’. This is a process where the male top 500 executive CEOs scheme to maintain and preserve these positions. The fear factor of who joins them makes it difficult for whoever wants to climb the ladder. Now that female have historically been marginalized they fail to break into this circles, and if they do the numbers are deemed insignificant and hence the poor trend in favor of men. Lastly, the other factor affecting women progression at place of work is what can be summed up as biases in performance appraisal, promotion, salary, and difficult working conditions that are male dominated. Any hard working woman bypassed by a male counterpart for promotion is demoralized and mostly decides to work as a part timer taking less interest on what go on at the work place. These difficult working conditions especially in Saudi Arabia has been noted as the main reason affecting women progression. The cultural setting of this country has perpetuated unwelcome working conditions for women for along time which has led to the low participation of women in building this nation. Saudi Arabia has, for example, an 18% of labour force participation by women with only 6% representing the professional and technical work. The United States of America has a total labor force of 46.5%, 6.2% of Fortune 500 top earners, and 3% of the top 500 CEOs. Although, this figures are low they are cited to be at its best compared to the earlier reports that had shown both the nations at a relatively low scores.

Advantages and disadvantages of having female CEOs

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages for having female CEOs compared to their male counterparts. One study by Catalyst, a leading non- profit organization in United States of America, whose purpose is to help women in business to advocate for more women executives in top level leaderships noted that a large percentage of women at the corporate suites, result to increased company’s actual return on investment by 34% (Catalyst, 18). Leadership studies show that averagely, women are rated as better managers than men counterparts. For example in a world of preferences, women CEOs are considered better placed to understand female consumer’s needs. This is important because women constitute the majority of the purchase power. The producing company is set to benefit by selling more and the consumers satisfied as their interests are taken care of by these vigilant female CEOs. Secondly, females are known to see their role in management of organizations; as encouraging workers in participation, sharing power and information down the hierarchy, appreciating the role of their juniors, and energizing workers towards achieving organization goals (Prime et al., 197). These are some of the characteristics documented as necessary to facilitate growth of organizations and consequently women are better placed to steer organizations to success as CEOs. Women possess high self efficacy, are achievement driven and exhibit high internal focus control, attributes necessary to ensure success of organizations and maintaining them at top levels. They are also known to be good in consensus building, cooperative and good in interpersonal relations, skills necessary to build organizations. Studies have also shown that female CEOs show more transformational leadership and Laissez faire leaderships than males. They engage in more contingent reward behaviors which have demonstrated to be effective in giving results (Eaglya, & Linda, 834). This description of women’s leadership style suggests that they are effective leaders in most places capable of performing better than their male counterparts. A number of disadvantage of having women CEOs have been noted. Most of the disadvantages have been discussed already as part of the reasons behind women not succeeding to top level management in organizations. The family- work conflict that is always strong among senior women means a compromise in many circumstances the work is sacrificed. This reduces substantially the output capacity of many organizations.

From the discussion on the disadvantages and advantages of female CEOs, it can be noted that women CEOs are likely to increase the profits of firms than male counterparts. Although a number of reasons are given for the lack of women senior managers, most of the reasons are termed prejudices of the society that are yet to be scientifically proved. Not until these prejudices are proved beyond doubt, women will still be the preferred group that the 21st century economy requires to maximize its outputs.

Strategies to ensure better representation of women

There are a number of strategies that can be used to ensure women get to top positions in organizations including CEOs. Scholars and experts in career development have noted creation of more social networks to empower and encourage women to aggressively go for top positions at their place of work. Studies have shown that women are less involved in social networking compared to men. They are less involved in recreational activities sometimes where important decisions are made outside the normal workplace. Besides social networks, there is need to formulate empowerment groups to bring together women achievers to share their stories. An example of such an organization is the POWER, a Chicago women organization for empowering women in leadership positions. Its mission was to bring women both at senior level management and those at low level but willing to progress. Such organizations provide an opportunity for successful women to impart their knowledge to women that are up-coming. On the other hand, it also provides an opportunity for female college students to exchange views with the already established women in their careers. Their self efficacy and confidence is built in readiness to compete favorably with their female counterparts at place of work. There is a need for women to be encouraged to be achievers and to believe in their abilities. Lacks of these characters leave many able and qualified women not applying for positions which otherwise could easily be recruited.


It is evident that there are few women in paid wages across the world. This trend is not different in both United States of America and Saudi Arabia with women occupying 46.9% and 15 % respectively of waged employment. There is enough evidence to show that women CEOs might provide more profits to corporate companies compared to their male counterparts if only given an opportunity to serve. Cultural practices, stereotyping, and discrimination has hampered the efforts of women to reach their potentials. Although strategies have been put in place to ensure the trend is revised, more is expected maybe through affirmative actions. This might reverse this situation especially in lowly ranked nations like Saudi Arabia whose cultural affiliations has had an adverse effect on the contribution of women to development through wage employment.


Alice Eaglya,. and Linda Carli. The female leadership advantage: An evaluation of the evidence. The Leadership Quarterly. 14, (2003): 807–834.

Catalyst. The Catalyst Census of Women corporate Officers and Top Earners of 2006. New York: 2007.

Prime, J., Carter, N., Karsten, J. & Mazneviski, M. Managers Perceptions of Women and Men Leaders. International Journal of Cross Cultural Management. 8.2 (2008): 171-210.

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