GRM 2010 GRM 2011

Abstract Details

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Title of Paper:
The shaping of national professional femininities. Saudi female employees in banks
Paper Proposal Text :
This paper deals with the process of nationalizing jobs in Saudi banks from a gender perspective. In all Gulf monarchies, measures have been taken in the last two decades in order to replace a part of the foreign employees by nationals. These policies have designated national women as an “unexploited resource”: most of them study and get university degrees, but do not have waged jobs. In this context, national women’s employment has been promoted in the past few years as contributing to nationalizing jobs. In Saudi Arabia, the new official discourse promoting women’s employment in the private sector contrasts with the discourse of the 1970s and 1980s that pictured Saudi women as devoted to their families as spouses, mothers, daughters and sisters thanks to their male relatives’ salaries (this discourse now coexists with the new discourse).
This paper argues that, whatever their failures and achievements, nationalization policies are already transforming and remaking hierarchies of gender, class and nationality. In fact, they contribute to shaping new national femininities. In order to analyse this process, I look at the meso level (organisations), more specifically at banks. This sector is interesting because nationalization measures have been implemented to a large extent (contrary to many other sectors for the time being) and Saudis now occupy about 80% of jobs. In banks, head offices are places where foreign and national, male and female employees interact, while these groups are more or less segregated elsewhere in Saudi cities.
Drawing on the literature on gendered organisations and gender performances at work, I elaborate on four aspects in order to understand how the employment of Saudi women in banks shapes new national femininities. First, due to gender segregation, some Saudi women got hired in only-for-women branches beginning from the 1980s; with nationalization policies, some women got hired in mixed departments but most of them occupy subaltern positions. Second, banks select specific profiles of Saudi women, especially those who speak English. Third, once hired, they meet obstacles as women and as Saudis and feel they have to work hard in order to acquire credibility. Fourth, they are subjected to specific gender norms that impact their self-presentation and behaviour and create constraint and pressure if they want to move up in hierarchy.
At this stage in my research, I have interviewed people in charge of jobs’ nationalization policies in ministries and chambers of commerce; Saudi women working in four different banks, in head offices and branches; and a few Saudi and foreign male managers in banks. I am going to conduct more fieldwork in January-February 2011.

I would like to specify also that I am not sure yet whether I will be able to attend the conference or not. I will tell it to the organizers as soon as I know during Spring.