Exploring the impact of digital technology on women’s employment in Saudi Arabia

Gadi, Naila H.

May 2021

Thesis or dissertation

© 2021 Naila H Gadi. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

Digital technology is revolutionising employment, creating new job opportunities while disrupting traditional occupations. Few studies, however, have examined the impact of technology on women’s employment in developing countries. There is a scarcity of literature on employment opportunities arising from the digitalization of economies for women in Arab countries, especially in Saudi Arabia, from the leadership perspective. Hence, the aim of this study is to focus on exploring the impact of digital technologies on the employment opportunities in digital technologies for women of Saudi Arabia, where the unique political, social and economic characteristics of the state compound may contribute to employment opportunities and barriers against the successful participation of Saudi women in the labour market. This study explores the perspectives of leaders working in the government, businesses and the academic institutions about the employment opportunities created by digital technologies in the Saudi labour market for women.
This study has adopted a methodology based on the structuration theory to explore the complexity involved in the subject matter which warranted the selection of participants from three key social structures: government, businesses and academic institutions and the results of semi-structured interviews with 40 participants (13-14 participants from each group) guided the researcher to derive important findings presented in this study. The afore-mentioned three groups were selected based on their overwhelming role in shaping and implementing the digital technologies in the emerging Saudi economy. Additionally, participants at leadership positions from the respective groups including both men and women were included as participants in this study, so that an in-depth insight into employment opportunities for Saudi women could be gained to highlight not only the employment opportunities but also the potential barriers in the ways of Saudi women in exploiting the employment opportunities if they do exist as a result of digitalization of Saudi economy. Importantly, leaderships from the included three groups included in this study are supposed to decide whether Saudi women need to be integrated in the labour market, which justifies the selection of participants occupying the leadership positions in business, academia and government and involved in digitalization of Saudi society and economy were included in this study. Thematic analysis was adopted to analyse the qualitative data, while the interpretation of data was done using the theoretical insights from the structuration theory.
Based on the data presented in this study, the social structures of the Saudi society were theorized to play an important role in enhancing or hindering the Saudi women’s participation in the labour market created by digital technologies. Participants believed that there are employment opportunities for Saudi women in different areas of digital technologies such as graphics, entrepreneurships, online businesses, e-marketing, robotics and artificial intelligence. It was found that Saudi government has introduced several affirmative action programmes for women in collaboration with academic institutions and businesses for training and educating Saudi women in digital technologies. This study found evidence supporting the widespread use of social media as a marketing tool for home-based businesses, which could enable employment in
digital technologies. The academic institutions in collaboration with businesses were found to be engaged in training women in digital technologies at vocational level, so that participation of Saudi women in digital technologies-assisted labour market could be made successful. The result showed some of the socio-cultural and structural levels barriers for a successful participation of Saudi women in the digital technologies-mediated
labour market in Saudi Arabia. Among other obstacles that were identified involved the inadequacy of the educational curriculum for girls, particularly in science and engineering and technology-related disciplines. The finding of this study also revealed that career options were limited; family and community pressures and stereotypical attitude towards Saudi women’s employment in digital technologies. The lack of separate working environment, childcare facilities at organizations could limit participation of Saudi women in the labour market created by digital technologies. Moreover, the lack of transport facilities for female workers were identified to be some other barriers.
This study has implications for governmental bodies endeavouring to foster the equal employment, education and training opportunities for Saudi women. The outcomes of this study could inform government of the potential socio-cultural and structural issues which could prevent the successful participation of Saudi women in the national economy and society productively. The results of study contributed to the practice by presenting the Women-Employment in Digital Technologies Promoting Structuration (WEDTPS) theory which was informed by the findings of this study.
The data from this study did not show the views of women aspiring to participate in the labour market generated by digital technologies, which may provide some additional insight into the women’s positions on the utility of current training and skills programs arranged by social structures in terms of increasing the employment opportunities for women. This study does not specify or focus on particular type(s) of digital technologies; variations in terms of implementation and emphasis of industries on different digital technologies may affect the employment opportunities for Saudi women in different ways. This may limit the generalizability of outcomes of this study to a particular digital technology.

Business School, The University of Hull
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