Female leadership at Saudi family businesses 'can normalise having women in top jobs'

Finding a female mentor in the kingdom can be a 'daunting task', KPMG report states

Some of the kingdom’s most successful family businesses are already opening up leadership opportunities for women. Getty
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Having more women take on leadership roles in family-owned businesses in Saudi Arabia will “normalise” the presence of senior female executives and encourage their greater participation in the workforce, according to consultancy KPMG.

“More women entering leadership positions at family businesses normalises the idea of having women in C-suite roles,” said Kholoud Mousa, partner and head of diversity, inclusion and equity at KPMG Professional Services.

“Such an environment spreads into non-family businesses and opens the door for other women to assume leadership positions."

As part of its Vision 2030 initiative, Saudi Arabia is putting in place reforms to diversify its economy and reduce its reliance on oil. Boosting the participation of women in the job market is a plank of the initiative.

The kingdom has introduced a flurry of economic and social reforms over the past five years, making it easier for women to find jobs. The number of female workers nearly doubled during the period and now stands at more than 35 per cent of the workforce, officials said last week.

Abdullah Abuthnain, the kingdom's Deputy Minister of Human Resources and Social Development, said the number of women in the workplace was at “the highest level in the kingdom’s history”.

Despite this, finding a female mentor can be a daunting task, KPMG's The Power of Women in Family Business report found.

The correct mentor may sometimes be “critical” to securing management and leadership roles, especially within family businesses, it said.

“It can be difficult, especially for women new to the workforce in Saudi Arabia, to find a female mentor. It is thus incumbent upon existing women leaders to seek out promising young women who could use the help of a mentor but may not know how to find one,” said Buthainah Albaity, director of private enterprise and family business at KPMG Professional Services.

Globally, certain sectors such as metals and machinery, mining and construction, and science and engineering are more male-dominated, according to the UN’s International Labour Organisation.

“In Saudi Arabia, many family businesses are conglomerates that have stakes in male-dominated industries like construction and manufacturing. Women in these kinds of family businesses have a hugely important role to play as trailblazers for other women hoping to enter male-dominated industries,” the report said.

The report also found that the “gender revolution” that occurred in the Saudi banking sector could be replicated in other industries as well.

“Once a few companies begin to hire women, it is likely to spread to other companies hoping to stay ahead of the curve,” KPMG said.

Overall, the report found that some of the kingdom’s most successful family businesses are already opening up leadership opportunities for women as part of their succession plans.

While most of these approaches involve adopting a meritocratic or objective process, some businesses are shifting family members directly from operations or day-to-day management to the board of directors or governance, KPMG said.

“Further change is on the horizon. With improved access to higher levels of education, coupled with shrinking family size … the role of women is continuing to progress," the report said.

"Some research has looked at the effect of succession and gender and suggested that father-to-daughter succession is more harmonious and creates less conflict around issues of leadership and power.”

Updated: May 25, 2022, 1:29 PM