Why is the Public Sector the Employer of Choice among Women in the Middle East? A Gendered Qualitative Inquiry into PSM in a Global Context

Published date01 December 2021
Date01 December 2021
AuthorGhada Barsoum
Subject MatterArticles
Review of Public Personnel Administration
2021, Vol. 41(4) 771 –791
© The Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/0734371X20941246
Why is the Public Sector the
Employer of Choice among
Women in the Middle East? A
Gendered Qualitative Inquiry
into PSM in a Global Context
Ghada Barsoum1
The public sector is the key employer of educated women in Arab countries. This
article seeks to explain this phenomenon, embedding the employment experience of
these women within the knowledge base of public service motivation (PSM). Relying
on semi-structured interviews conducted with women from Egypt, Saudi Arabia and
Kuwait, this article highlights three motivational factors among this group: “pure”
service motivation; gender-specific motives; and extrinsic factors. The article shows
that women’s work in the public sector is socially valued for reasons that pertain to a
culture of gender expectations and respect for the public service. The analysis extends
the scholarship on PSM into a global context and highlights the limitations of a PSM
scholarship that is focused on attitudinal statements. The qualitative data supports
an argument for the inclusion of contextual variables pertaining to institutions of
socialization, gender roles, historical contexts, and labor market conditions into PSM
public service motivation, public sector, Arab countries, gender
Literature on public service motivation (PSM) has been thriving in the public human
resource management (HRM) field, with the exception of two key domains. The first
1The American University in Cairo, New Cairo, Egypt
Corresponding Author:
Ghada Barsoum, Public Policy and Administration Department, School of Global Affairs and Public Policy,
The American University in Cairo, AUC Avenue, New Cairo 11835, Egypt.
Email: gbarsoum@aucegypt.edu
941246ROPXXX10.1177/0734371X20941246Review of Public Personnel AdministrationBarsoum
772 Review of Public Personnel Administration 41(4)
is in providing a gendered understanding of PSM that would acknowledge the historic
limitations of women’s physical and social boundaries and their competing productive
and reproductive roles (DeHart-Davis et al., 2006). Although gender differences in
PSM have been highlighted in a number of studies (e.g., Bright, 2005; Moynihan &
Pandey, 2007), an in-depth understanding of the gender dimension remains largely
lacking (DeHart-Davis et al., 2006). The second is in understanding PSM in contexts
outside the countries of Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development
(OECD). Van der Wal (2015) describes the situation of this literature wondering if it is
“all quiet on the non-Western front” on PSM. While these two key areas remain under-
studied, researchers of PSM continue to debate the genealogy of the concept; whether
it should be grounded in public institutions or should include the private and the not-
for-profit sectors (e.g., Bozeman & Su, 2015; Houston, 2011; Perry, 2014); and
whether PSM should include intrinsic and extrinsic job factors or be limited to altruis-
tic motives (e.g., Perry, 2014; Perry & Wise, 1990; Rainey & Steinbauer, 1999;
Vandenabeele, 2007).
Informed by these debates and the need for a more nuanced examination of the
dynamics of gender and PSM, this article seeks to contribute to the scholarship on
PSM by elaborating on its relevance to the experience of educated women in Arab
countries. The public sector is the key employer of educated women in the Arab world
(Assaad & Barsoum, 2019; OECD/CAWTAR, 2014). A gendered reading of PSM is
particularly lacking in this context, despite the predominance of public sector employ-
ment among educated women. What motivates these women to join the public sector?
Is this experience relevant to the growing and thriving literature on PSM? The Arab
region is no exception to the quietness on PSM outside the OECD, with very few stud-
ies emerging about the topic (e.g., Barsoum, 2016). While similar questions have been
addressed by many PSM studies in other contexts (e.g., Vandenabeele, 2008;
Vandenabeele et al., 2004; Yung, 2014), there is a research vacuum in non-Western
contexts about these issues. Methodologically, this article provides much needed qual-
itative data to support the scholarship on PSM (Ritz, 2011), particularly in a less stud-
ied context.
The qualitative data presented in this article highlight three interrelated categories
of motivational factors to join the public sector among educated women in the region.1
The first pertains to what can be termed as “pure public service motivation” (borrow-
ing from Perry, 2014), where interviewed educated women discuss commitment to
serve their countries and communities. The second set of motivational factors relates
to gender-specific issues of work-life balance in the public sector due to its shorter
work days and the appropriateness of the work space to gender norms. The third set of
incentives focuses on extrinsic factors of job security, income, and opportunities for
advancement (also borrowing from Perry, 2014). The three motivational factors remain
interrelated and are particularly gendered in nature. The article concludes with a dis-
cussion of the potential of this data to expand the PSM theoretical framework and its
ways of measurement. As such, the analysis in this article calls for PSM studies to
encompass more than attitudinal statements and personal characteristics, which has
been the key approach for the study of the concept in the Western context, and to

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT