Women and entrepreneurship in Saudi Arabia

Unleashing female entrepreneurial talent in Saudi Arabia

New research reveals that although a small but growing number of women in Saudi Arabia are actively challenging the status quo, further regulatory, educational and socio-cultural changes are urgently needed to promote women’s entrepreneurship and fully realise the economic and social aspirations of the Kingdom.

Although Saudi women are more economically active than often perceived internationally and opportunities for economic participation are increasing, the report ‘Giving voice to women entrepreneurs in Saudi Arabia’ confirms women remain vastly under-represented in the vital entrepreneurial sector.

The study, carried out by the Women's Entrepreneurship Initiative, a non-profit company that supports women in business, in collaboration with Ashridge Business School, is the first of its in kind in the region whereby 37 aspiring and established Saudi women entrepreneurs engaged in a series of workshops and in-depth interviews.

The Findings

The research suggests women entrepreneurs lack essential competencies and capacities for successful entrepreneurship, including:

  • Self-confidence - Saudi women entrepreneurs can present themselves as confident but often suffer from an underlying lack of self-belief evidenced by hesitation in decision making, avoidance of commitment and a strong fear of judgment and failure.
  • Risk-taking - Female entrepreneurs show courage in following their chosen career path, but are however averse to assuming tangible risks e.g. leaving the security and status of government jobs or seeking external funding for their businesses.
  • Autonomy - A lack of self-reliance, self-sufficiency and personal initiative, often resulting from social restrictions imposed upon women. This can be internalised to such an extent that they become complacent, if not complicit, in their situation.
  • Self esteem - The women interviewed experienced powerful emotional reactions to the gender-specific challenges they face. They express feelings of frustration, outrage, helplessness and/or self-blame at their lack of autonomy. They also have a powerful fear of judgment and failure.

Current Obstacles

The Saudi Arabian government has committed to ambitious targets to enhance the economic activity of women and the opportunity for women to play a more prominent role in the Saudi economy has never been greater, with a comprehensive policy addressing women’s participation in the entrepreneurship sector pending.


The researchers make a number of recommendations to help overcome some of the barriers and allow women to play their part in driving positive change. To find out more download the executive summary.