Sobey School News
Q&A with Dr. Liela Jamjoom, Governor General’s Gold Medal Recipient
Date Published: July 20, 2021
Liela Jamjoom, PhD, recently received the Governor General’s Gold Medal at Spring 2021 Convocation. The gold medal is awarded to the doctoral student who has achieved the most outstanding academic record.
Liela’s doctoral thesis, titled "The narratives of Saudi women leaders in the workplace: a postcolonial feminist study" explored the stories of Saudi women in leadership, offering a counter to the leadership literature, which is predominantly Western centric.
We asked Liela some questions about being awarded the Governor General's Gold Medal and her experience in the Sobey PhD in Business Administration program.
Why did you choose to pursue your PhD at the Sobey School of Business?
I applied to the Sobey School of Business with an MBA from the University of Business and Technology (UBT) Saudi Arabia, and a Bachelor’s in Banking and Finance from Dar Al-Hekma University Saudi Arabia. I was also working as a lecturer of Human Resource Management at UBT, and I was particularly drawn to subjects of gender and leadership. Previous to that post, I was an employment advisor at Ingeus Deloitte, where I helped women job seekers in Saudi Arabia find sustainable employment, and it was then and there that I realized my passion for surfacing women’s stories, struggles and successes.
I was drawn to the Sobey School of Business in particular due to the range of multi-paradigmatic courses offered. The flexible structure it provided students and candidates was very appealing.
Why did you focus on women in leadership for your doctoral thesis?
Studies on women in leadership have been explored extensively in Western contexts, and the literature is predominantly Eurocentric. Often missing from these studies is how culture and context impact how women navigate their leadership roles. And so, I wanted to tease out contexts and women who are rarely investigated in the management literature. As a Saudi woman myself, I was mostly frustrated from what was written about Saudi women (even within Management Organization Studies), and so I felt that there was a need to showcase a different story (or a counter narrative as I call it in my dissertation). Why wasn’t the literature reflecting the women I knew holding leadership positions in Saudi Arabia? Why was only a simple narrative being perpetuated about them? These were just some of the questions that led me to my doctoral thesis.
Could you tell me a bit more about your thesis and its goals?
My thesis explored the narratives of Saudi women leaders in the workplace contributing to the limited studies that look at the intersecting dimensions of (a) leadership, (b) gender, and (c) context.
Published works on Saudi women in organizational contexts are overwhelmingly reductionist. The literature mostly discusses the challenges that Saudi women in leadership positions face, silencing the ways in which the women overcome their organizational challenges. I wanted to change that conversation and offer an intimate, deep and personal encounter with the women — one where the women’s voices permeate the text. So, my thesis offered two main objectives: (1) a critique of published works on Saudi women in organizational contexts, which I call the master narrative, and (2) a counter to understanding Saudi women in leadership positions. I interviewed 14 Saudi women leaders and I was particularly looking at how they constructed their leadership identity. I wanted to hear more about the ways in which they overcame/resisted organizational challenges, and I wanted to highlight their different ways of knowing and seeing. So, I take the reader into a process of critique and reconstruction.
What was your reaction to receiving the Governor General’s Gold Medal?
I was pleasantly surprised, humbled, and honoured. Hearing about the news came just a month after I left Nova Scotia for good, and so it was such a beautiful closing to a wonderful chapter of my life.
In doctoral studies, you often work long hours alone with your thoughts, academic papers and books, and so receiving this kind of recognition validates in some way all the invisible labour that is put in curating a doctoral dissertation.
What were some of your favourite aspects of completing your PhD at the Sobey School of Business?
At the Sobey School of Business, a completed dissertation is just one element of the PhD journey, but it is not everything. I enjoyed how the PhD program encouraged us to participate in a number of national and international conferences. As PhD students and candidates, we had the opportunity to share our research ideas and form an academic network with researchers from around the world. I also had the opportunity to serve as a divisional executive at the Administrative Sciences Association of Canada (ASAC) Conference. I also loved the small, and intimate cohort size which allowed for a deeper level of engagement with our faculty and other cohort members. I’ve built some beautiful friendships along the way, which just made the PhD journey that more enjoyable. I wasn’t just doing research I was passionate about, I also got to share my enthusiasm with others who were as interested as I was. That’s pretty special.
What are your future goals now that you have completed your PhD?
After successfully defending my PhD, my supervisor said to me, “a PhD is a gift that keeps on giving,” and it has definitely been a gift. Completing a PhD has opened so many doors my way. I’ve received a book deal with Routledge Leadership Series based on my thesis (stay tuned for March 2022). I also continue to collaborate with wonderful educators and researchers, some from various cohorts from the Sobey PhD program. I am working on research on sustainable leadership, motherhood and work, and I continue to work on finding various outlets to publish my work on Saudi women in leadership.
My future goals are to continue in my academic career, but also find ways of bridging between academia and organizational practice.