Women's access to corporate board positions: the perception of women on boards in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Despite changes that have increased women's participation in the labour force, women remain rare on corporate boards of companies listed on the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia stock exchange. The purpose of this qualitative study was to develop a multi-dimensional understanding of factors influencing women's access to corporate board positions through exploring the experiences of the women currently serving on boards in Saudi Arabia. The study set out to establish the demographic characteristics of the women and the factors that influenced their appointment. Concomitantly was the need to establish general factors influencing women's access to corporate boards in Saudi Arabia. Guided by an analytical framework that identified national, firm, and individual-level factors as the main explanatory themes of women's access to corporate boards, the study's theoretical framework was anchored on a combination of Institutional Theory and Resource Dependence Theory.
The study adopted constructivism and therefore used a qualitative approach. Data was collected through a combination of qualitative interviews with purposefully sampled female (n=10) and male (n=10) members of gender diverse boards, stakeholder representatives (n=6), and desk research. Through template analysis, factors that influenced the appointment of the women were found to be a combination of formal and informal institutions and firms' resource needs.
The study concluded that facilitators of women's access to boards resulted from an interplay of multiple country-, firm-, and individual-level factors. At the same time, barriers arose from contradictions among the same factors because of the conservative culture and individual women's responses. The study contributes to the literature on facilitators of board gender diversity in conservative societies by highlighting the importance of relationships and extending the definition of 'desired external resources' to include trust-based relationships. The study demonstrates the multi-dimensional nature of factors influencing women's access to corporate board positions in Saudi Arabia. Further, the study contributes to practice through identifying resources embedded in women that have been deemed valuable by firms and to policy through highlighting inherent discriminatory practices in board recruitment processes.