Success and agency: localizing women’s leadership in Oman

Maia Hallward, Kennesaw State University
Hania Bekdash-Muellers, Kennesaw State University


Purpose This study aims to examine women’s leadership in Oman, seeking to empirically determine whether and how local perceptions of “success” and lifestyle preferences are related to women’s agency and propensity for leadership. Design/methodology/approach Drawing on the literature, this paper qualitatively analyzes 32 semi-structured interviews of diverse Omani women leaders, identifying their conceptions of success as predominantly subjective or objective. At the same time, the study uses Hakim’s (2006) lifestyle preference model to explore women's agency. Findings Contrary to the literature on the central importance of domestic responsibilities for Arab Muslim women, more women in leadership positions are identified as career-centered (14/32, 44%); those who did identify as family-centered (6/32, 19%) did not cite Islam to justify that preference, and success is envisioned more subjectively (19/32, 59%). Research limitations/implications The sample has an urban bias and does not claim to be representative of all Omani women. Interviews were conducted in English; most women leaders in Oman are required to speak English. Practical implications By analyzing work-life balance preferences as a proxy for agency and interrogating Omani women's own conceptions of success, the study may lead to more robust and culturally aware policies to support women’s leadership. Social implications Defining in subjective terms suggests that success is not necessarily equated with achieving a high level position for Omani women. Further, only 6/32 were identified as home-centered, thus indicating the critical importance of domestic support from hired labor or family members. Originality/value This study contributes new empirical findings on women leaders in Oman that illustrates the role of personal agency and lifestyle preference in contrast to many studies that treat culture as a constant.