25 April 2013

Book chapter: "Women managers - and male norms?"

- a comparison of some Scandinavian organizations over time

Book chapter by Yvonne Due Billing, Department of Sociology, Copenhagen University, Visiting Professor at Department of Sociology, Lund in “Women and management: Global Issues and Promising Solutions”, Michele A. Paludi (ed.), ABC-CLIO, 2013.

Management and the perception of ‘male’ qualities
Because of the historical dominance of men in management positions, management has been seen as carrying a ‘masculine ethic’ and image, which meant that women had problems getting ahead because of the pre-structuring of management and organizations.

Management jobs have traditionally been understood as constructed according to male norms and thus creating difficulties for women. The taken-for-granted point of departure is that women and men are essentially different ‘evidenced’ by the ascribed congruence between men and management jobs. Consequently, there is a tendency to perceive women as victims of these dominant depictions.

Fluid gender
This chapter tries to challenge such fatalism and calls for a more sophisticated understanding of the complexity of everyday organizational processes. Organizational contexts, line of work, cultural variations and gender discourses are contradictory and ambiguous and they may constrain us, or they may do the opposite.

Talking about ‘male’ and ’female’ as unproblematic, easily identifiable, categories is to take biological identity as a given point of departure instead of acknowledging that gender is unstable and constituted by discourse – meaning that we cannot really say something about gender as such. It is a fluid variable, shifting over space and time.

The need for a more sophisticated perspective on women in management
First, Yvonne Due Billing casts some light on the male as norm phenomena historically and then on the basis of some of her own studies. The chapter shows that there are great variations in gender equality and in gender constructions in different organizations and at different time periods and using concepts, which takes for granted that there are problems, narrows our understanding of reality.

Then the chapter argues that the whole complex of women in management needs to be dealt with in more complex ways instead of simplistic concepts such as male as norm. There are other ways of dealing with the experiences of women than just reducing them to victims of a male norm phantom.

Yvonne Due Billing therefore states that we need more sophisticated analysis and studies; we do not further our understanding of women’s situation by unreflectively using concepts, which in many ways are outdated.

Go to the website of the publisher to purchase the book.