Saudi Arabia and female leadership are not exactly words that seamlessly flow after each other. After all, my country, despite recent reforms, is still mostly known as a country lagging behind others in female empowerment.

And yet, I and others like me, do exist, do work, do lobby, and do write about female empowerment in the middle of this masculine heartland; proving that female empowerment and leadership can be found and nourished anywhere.

Female leadership challenges, however, are not confined to Saudi. One of the biggest issues facing the world is that despite increasing numbers of talented and educated women, they are almost nowhere to be found in top decision making jobs in any sector.

So, why are we stagnating?

The most important point is that we need quotas.  On the surface quotas are opposed by politically correct members of society, usually men, as an unnecessary step.  But, quotas work because they help establish a new norm quickly.  One successful example occurred in France in 2011 where politely requesting companies to increase female board members participation, to which most companies replied with an uninterested shrug, the government imposed a 40% quota.

And voila, just like that, the problem was mostly resolved.

Work/life balance is another significant sensitive challenge that many women face and struggle.

About a year ago, a striking picture of a female Italian MP went viral on the web. She was voting in an official session while simultaneously carrying her three-month old baby.  She was both praised and criticized for this move. Personal opinion aside, the incident indicated that women needed solutions that fit their lives. Here, the MP was allowed to bring in her baby, how many companies would have done the same? How about yours?

This issue impacts all of society in one way or another. Moreover, western countries are facing falling fertility rates, as well as women dropping out of the work force as a direct result of the failure to find a viable solution. Resolving it, would go a long way towards female talent retention.

Lastly, as they are growing up young women receive conflicting messages from society. The media obsesses on the hairstyles of a female political candidate, even as they celebrate her run. Or,  female reproductive rights are rolled back, while universities are championing initiatives to increase the numbers of practicing female scientists. Due to this, the values associated with female leadership get muddled and female role models become too flawed for admiration.

Of course, one day female leadership will be so ubiquitous that it no longer warrants commenting on. Society will also eventually reach a point when a woman’s wardrobe is just that, and not a referendum on her abilities.

Until then, we have our work cut out for us.

Muna AbuSulayman, is Young Global Leader from Saudi Arabia who works in both media and  philanthropic sectors winning and was chosen as one of the Most Influential Arabs, Arab Women, and Muslims in the World in 2009.

Pictured: Italy’s Member of the European Parliament Licia Ronzulli (top C) takes part with her daughter in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg February 15, 2012. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler