Women in leadership in Kuwait: a research agenda

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Al-Salem, Athmar
Speece, Mark
Journal Article
Purpose This study aims to examine perceptions in Kuwait about women’s leadership in management. Design/methodology/approach This study includes a review of data on the gender gap across Middle East/North Africa (MENA) countries, comparison with selected Asian and Western countries and summaries of multiple small surveys in Kuwait on women in management. The surveys were all convenience samples ranging from 100-500, targeting middle-class respondents. Findings The MENA is behind most of the world in closing the gender gap, but progress among Gulf Cooperation Council countries has been fairly rapid. Many Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) indicators are comparable to other non-Western cultural areas. Multiple surveys in Kuwait show fairly widespread acceptance of women in leadership positions. Respondents feel that characteristics of women vs men managers are different, but strengths and weaknesses by gender balance out, so that men and women perform about the same. Traditional Kuwaiti culture seems conducive to women in management, but some specific cultural barriers remain. In particular, the diwaniyya, social gatherings to network and discuss current affairs, and wasta, connections, are dominated by men in modern Kuwaiti society. These are essentially social capital issues. Practical implications Fostering continued progress for women in management requires recognition of the actual social and cultural situation; simply arguing that Kuwait should be more Western in how it does things does not seem very useful. Originality/value Research on women in management in MENA is not very extensive, but is important for understanding how to facilitate opportunities for women. In Kuwait, there seems to be general acceptance that women can be leaders in managerial positions, and little overt discrimination. However, lack of access to traditional social capital networks puts women at a disadvantage. Research needs to focus on this issue to help develop ways to overcome this subtle obstacle to further progress.