Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Gender Differences of Perceived Leadership Skills among Saudi Students

Academic journal article Advancing Women in Leadership

Gender Differences of Perceived Leadership Skills among Saudi Students

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Middle East has one of the highest unemployment rates in the world. The realities of youth unemployment in this region have been a concern for governments, policy makers, and scholars. As of 2010, one in every four youth in the region was unemployed (International Labor Organization [ILO], 2011). The problem that faces the region is not only the high unemployment rates but also low labor force participation rates, resulting in very low employment-to-population ratios. According to the ILO's (2011) report on global unemployment trends, the Middle East employment-to-population ratio was 45.4% in 2010, meaning that less than half of the working-age populations actually are employed. However, in Saudi Arabia, the working population-to-population ratio stands at 31.2%, much lower than the regional average (Central Department of Statistics and Information, 2012). That makes the situation more adverse in the Kingdom.

Although the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has been witnessing a steady growth of involvement of Saudi youth in the job market, the youth unemployment rate remained at 30.2% in 2009-three times the national unemployment rate in the kingdom (ILO, 2011). A number of factors contribute to the youth employment situation and their participation in the labor force. The literature has suggested that the Middle East region has witnessed an increase in youth population, creating a youth bulge, consequently contributing to the increase in youth unemployment (Roudi, 2011). In addition, female participation in the labor market remains particularly low at 15% (ILO, 2011).

To tackle the issue of youth unemployment, the Saudi government intensified its efforts to enhance the contribution of the national Saudi workforce in various sectors. One of the country's strategic objectives is to develop the youth capacity to contribute to the Kingdom's social and economic development (Ministry of Economy and Planning, 2010). As of 2008, Saudi Youth (age 18-24) represented 35% of the country's working force. Thus, it is not surprising that the Saudi government gives special attention to the role of youth in the Kingdom's development plans, as this population sector represents the future generation of the country's professionals.

In 2010, the Saudi government approved the Kingdom's Ninth Development Plan-a 4-year economic plan that stipulates the development approaches to be followed for the period from 2010 to 2014 (Ministry of Economy and Planning, 2010). The Ninth Development Plan (2010-2014) specified certain measures to enable Saudi youth to develop certain skills to ensure their success as active professionals within the national labor force. One area of interest is leadership. The Ninth Development Plan emphasized providing education that "competes for leadership and contributes to building the knowledge society and meets requirements of socioeconomic and environmental development" (Ministry of Economy and Planning, 2010, p. 412). These measures are in line with the 2008 World Bank report, which called for an overhaul of the educational system in the Middle East and Northern Africa to a system that delivers "the new skills and expertise necessary to excel in a more competitive environment" (p. 84).

For that reason, an in-depth investigation of the leadership skills that Saudi students are acquiring in universities and colleges becomes necessary to understand how educational institutions are preparing students for the job market. However, considering the low female participation in the Saudi labor market, exploring the gender differences in leadership skills is equally crucial as the leadership skills acquired in higher education institution can significantly influence employment opportunities. Another reason for exploring the gender differences in perceived leadership skills is the fact that the social roles assigned to women in Saudi society bear great significance on how they perceive their skills, which will be discussed further in the discussion portion of this paper (Burke & Collins, 2001). …

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