This study is among the first to explore female labour in the private sector in Saudi Arabia, drawing on Saudi women’s experiences of working in SMEs. A gendered power relations approach was adopted to make an important and original contribution to knowledge, with regard to the implications of feminisation in SMEs. In particular, it addresses the gendered nature of Saudi Arabia’s latest Saudization incentive,the Nitaqat programme; illuminating the complexities of managing female labour under Nitaqat and allowing the voices of female labour in the Saudi private sector to be heard and interpreted. The study therefore explores the shifting role of women in the Saudi Arabian labour market due to Nitaqat – a programme launched in 2011 to impose quotas for the employment of Saudi nationals in the private sector, but which has also led to an increase in the number of female employees in what were hitherto almost exclusively male environments. Hence, Saudi women are gradually beginning to experience more open workplaces. It is these changes that have inspired the current study on the management response to increased female labour in private Saudi firms. Moreover, Bradley’s (1999)gendered power relations approach in the workplace provides a lens through which the experiences of Saudi women and the shifting nature of their roles which challenges the norms within Saudi Arabia’s patriarchal society. Consequently, this original research,based on five detailed case studies of private-sector firms, explores the experiences of female Saudi employees in SMEs, with specific reference to their management. The findings are clearly complex: while the women appeared to be subjugated in some ways,they also seemed to be gaining sources of power in the workplace. However, the source of this power varied across the firms. Through semi-structured interviews, rich, in-depth qualitative data were gathered from 26 participants, comprising female employees and human resource managers. To enrich these data, an ethnographic approach was adopted for two of the case studies. The findings highlight varying responses to female employment,revealing that while some firms comply with Nitaqat, an opportunistic approach to employing women is also evident, with Nitaqat as an incentive. Therefore, this research provides insights into the varying degrees of liberation witnessed amongst female employees in the private sector, particularly in terms of their workplace experience,influenced by managerial responses, the nature of the firm, and the employer’s level of authority. Thus, this research makes an important contribution to existing work undertaken on the implications of gendered power and labour in SMEs in emerging economies.Key words: Nitaqat, patriarchy, female employees.