Acculturation Assessment

Acculturation Assessment

Project description

Source: Molinsky, A. (2010). A situational approach for assessing and teaching acculturation. Journal of Management Education, 34(5), 723. Retrieved from the Walden Library using SAGE Premier 2010 database. Search using the article’s title (will attach article)
In this paper, the author argues that individuals can be taught to assess a cultural situation and determine the best course of action and that individuals have different levels of cultural competency in different situations. The author then outlines a specific program developed to help individuals cope with the challenges of operating within a new cultural context.

With this in mind complete the following:
– Complete a 2 x 2 acculturation assessment framework with at least three (3) situations in Quadrant 4 and your plans for moving these situations to Quadrant 1.

In addition to the source provided, use one (1) additional source.

critique the article justify your comments and conclusions No more than 1000 words) excluding cited articles and reference for justification

Paper details:
Billing, Y.D. (2011) Are women in management victims of the phantom of the male norm? Gender, Work and Organization, 18, pp. 298-317 [Human Resource Management]

Are Women in Management
Victims of the Phantom of the
Male Norm?gwao_546 298..317
Yvonne Due Billing*
Managerial jobs have conventionally been understood as male and thus as
not being directly suitable for women. The point of departure of this
discourse is that women and men are different and that there is congruence
between men and managerial jobs. On the basis of a qualitative study of
women managers, I argue that there is a need for more sophisticated ways
of appreciating the experiences of (many) women in relation to management.
Variation, complexity and contradictions may be lost when holding
onto essentialist understandings such as the male norm.
Keywords: management, doing gender, the male norm, congruency
This author questions the continuous use of the male as the norm in
management as an appropriate indicator for explaining women’s difficulties
in management. This idea rests on a discourse that celebrates differences
between men and women and is based upon somewhat rigid ideas of
managerial jobs and a belief that organizations are similar in this gender
aspect. This discourse supports an understanding of women as ‘others’ (deviants)
and, I argue, reduces the complexity of women’s (and men’s) lives and
their identities and also ignores the fact that organizations and management
jobs differ significantly. Based on a qualitative study of 20 Swedish and
Danish women managers, I argue that their experiences can be dealt with in
ways other than reducing them to victims of the male norm phantom.
Firstly, I am going to provide some examples of how the notion of the male
as the norm is used in the literature and the difficulties this term presents us
with, as it cannot account for the complexities in the experiences of women
managers. Next I introduce the concept of congruency to indicate a perceived
Address for correspondence: *Department of Sociology, University of Copenhagen, Department
of Sociology PO Box 2099, DK-1014 Copenhagen K; e-mail: [email protected]
Gender, Work and Organization. Vol. 18 No. 3 May 2011
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
match between people and their jobs. If, for example, a managerial job is
perceived to be incongruent with specific kinds of people then we should
expect such people to be reluctant or perhaps ambivalent about accepting a
managerial job or, after having accepted such a job, at least, to display some
resistance to the norm in that job or to act contrary to the norm and to make
some kind of adjustment to their managerial behaviour. If, on the other hand,
they are not greatly affected by tacking on such a position then perhaps
notion of the male as the norm is too simple a concept to provide a meaningful
understanding of what goes on in organizations.
In all organizations there are norms and rules for behaviour, some of
which may be gendered in the sense that gendered differences are created.
‘Doing gender’ (West and Zimmerman, 1987) cannot be completely avoided:
we do gender and sometimes we undo gender (Deutsch, 2007) (that is,
conform to or break away from sex stereotypes). I show how some of the
women interviewed sometimes use gender categories as discursive
resources, for example, to make sense of their daily experiences of doing
management and to navigate around gender norms and constrains.
I investigate congruency in relation to their job and the perceptions and
experiences of the women interviewed. Having found that it makes sense to
categorize their managerial jobs in four different classes, I finally discuss the
problems in continuing to use established categories when they no longer
resonate with women’s experiences.
The male as the norm?
Organizations have historically been constructed and developed according to
expectations that men were the breadwinners and that a bureaucratic career
was equivalent to a male career (Witz and Savage, 1992). The development of
hierarchical structures took place along gendered lines as women were
recruited as cheap labour and were meant to fit into subordinate positions. As
stated byWitz and Savage (1992) women’s entry in these jobs made it possible
to promote male clerks more quickly. Predetermined career structures were
reserved for men, and men’s careers were facilitated by the existence of
female supporters, making it possible for men to spend most of their time in
the organization. The stereotypical man that set the original norm was a
career man with a supportive wife working in the home. This constellation
still exists, but it is nowadays less widespread. In Europe most women have
paid jobs (Glover and Kirtin, 2006). In the Nordic countries double-career
families or dual breadwinners are the most common, as two incomes are
needed to provide a reasonable standard of living in response to high taxes.1
Despite the fact that a large number of women work outside the home,
there are still more men than women managers. Many women have advanced
to the middle levels but there are few at the top.2 This has been seen as the
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
result of excluding mechanisms, of the masculine ethic and image these
positions convey (for example,Acker, 1990; Kanter, 1977;Wilson, 1998) and of
women’s lifestyle preferences (Hakim, 2000).
In this article the focus is not on why fewer women get to the top but on
how the interviewees positioned themselves in relation to different managerial
jobs and how they experienced becoming and being managers, for
example in relation to their former colleagues. The main purpose is to discuss
established understandings such as the problem of using the male as the
norm when it no longer resonates with many women’s experiences.
The question then is: In what sense do work practices and norms still
reflect the life situations and interests of men? For example, Meyerson and
Kolb (2000) argue that organizations are inherently gendered as work practices
and norms reflect men’s life situations. I would argue that few jobs are
entirely congruent with the needs of those holding them. Thus, men too may
find the content and demands of their job at odds with what they really want.
For many women and men, work organizations may mean constraints and
suffering. Conversely, both may experience joy and benefits from everyday
organizational life. Most managers of both sexes probably have a lot of interests
in common (for example, wanting reasonable time for a private life with
or without children).
Some of the constraints on managers in organizations, such as the pressure
to give priority to work over family, do not originate solely from male domination
but are also contingent upon the workings of capitalism where certain
performances seem to be necessary for organizations to produce goods and
services effectively and competitively. Perhaps this aspect should not be
underestimated. The varieties within the categories of men and women
should not be underestimated, either. Modern forms of gender identity are
more multifaceted and varied than they were a couple of decades ago.
Although traditional images of women as non-careerist and accompanying
self-understandings still exist, in large sectors of contemporary society they
no longer dominate.Women’s average share of higher education has for years
exceeded that of men.3 The modern, professional, career-oriented woman is a
legitimate social identity — even a norm. This does not mean that it is
unproblematic for women to adopt it if it breaks too strongly with traditional
ideas of femininities.
In the Nordic countries day care facilities are more generous than in many
other countries and children should not be seen as a (big) hindrance for
women who wish to pursue a career. Many men now take (or have to take)
more responsibility as parents, even for very small children, than a couple of
decades ago, at least in Nordic countries.
Many different factors may influence who we are and how and what we
can be and how much time we can devote to our career. The term, the male
norm indicates that gender identity is a major identity signifier. But identity
should not be reduced to a gender identity. We may belong to or be assigned
Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011 © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
to different social groups simultaneously. A woman, a manager and an information
technology (IT) employee are all possible examples of social identities.
However, the crucial element is not the socially available category but the
way in which an individual uses a specific social category as a central marker
for selfhood. The IT woman manager may not see herself as ‘a feminine’
person, but as an engineer.4 Another divider is age: many people have experienced
age discrimination, whether they are men or women. Considering all
the variations is impossible. Although women and men construct differences
and similarities and position themselves in relation to gender categories,
there are other social forces that also shape the individual. How we see
ourselves is not only a question of the sex category we belong to. Identities are
created in interaction with others and through the way we talk about ourselves,
and we may change over time or feel that we have changed our
identity. Identity is under the constant influence from a lot of different factors,
not fixed in an essentialist past.
Alvesson and Willmott (2002) use the concepts of identity work and identity
regulation. This signals theway in which individuals do identity construction
based on interpretations of themselves in the world and also that these
interpretations often bear strong imprints of others who exercise power over
these interpretations. How we define ourselves is then partly an outcome of
how others — those around us — provide rewards and sanctions for what
we are.
Many organizations hold meritocratic ideals, by which an attractive candidate
for a managerial job is constructed as an individual who is willing to
accept the rules of the game. In many organizations the ideal candidate is one
who is willing to travel a lot, to be available and to work longer than a normal
working week; in short; one who is what Acker (2006) called an ideal worker,
who is often, but not necessarily a man. The general condition for competition
ideally operates independently of gender. Competitive pressure makes organizations
more interested in employing those whom they can take advantage
of, whether because of their gender, ethnicity, age or other factors. As Brittain
(1989) suggests, capitalism does not need the demarcation of gender. Organizations
and management need to survive in a competitive, sustainable
world and therefore people are hired who are willing to, and capable of,
accepting demands that may not be family-friendly. This is a problem for
many workers and it may hit women more if they have partners (or children
or both) with whom they have not been able to negotiate a fair sharing of
housework and caring work. If women are doing most of the household and
childcare work they have little time for socializing with colleagues and building
up relations and networks proving their commitment to the social side of
the organization (Eagly and Carli, 2007).
Male domination in organizations is said to result in a symbolically masculine
culture and ethic, gendering organizations such that it is difficult for
women to be accepted once they have become managers. At the managerial
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
level the sex composition is still in favour of men and is believed to set the
norm for how one should be as a manager, and for the characteristics and
attributes expected in a management position (Acker, 1990). According to
Eagly and Carli (2007), another hindrance to women managers is that they
cannot be accepted in the culture because they do not join male managers in
strip clubs or go hunting with them. If the norm includes activities like
hunting and visiting strip clubs this might leave out some (or even most) men
and it might attract some women.
Managerial jobs can be seen as more or less manly, loosely coupled to
the ratio of the jobholders, and some management positions may demand
values and managerial behaviour that are hard to define as male (Billing and
Alvesson, 2000). Different organizations (and even different levels within the
organization) may want or need different characteristics, qualifications and
management behaviour, depending on, for example, whether the organization
is in a competitive business or in the public service sector. The tasks vary
and there is a need for people whose qualifications or personalities match the
needs of the organization (Greenwald, 2008). There are workplaces where
there is a gender mix and also workplaces where women are dominant and
men subordinate (for example, in many Scandinavian public sector organizations).
Since the dawn of bureaucracy there have been major changes in
organizations and in women’s situation. Bureaucratic initiatives have benefited
many women (Konrad and Linnehan, 1999). With the expansion of
service and knowledge work there are also fewer jobs and tasks with a very
strong masculine image.
The male norm maintains an unhappy association with men’s bodies. This
discourse perpetuates differences and even makes them seem natural. This
construction might trap people; for example, some women may be confronted
with the idea that they ought to adopt different leadership styles
because of the assumed difference between women and men. This idea easily
constrains women to specific leadership positions, overburdening them with
tasks that are believed to be natural for women and perhaps under-burdening
them with others, thus restricting them in how they can be managers (Billing
and Alvesson, 2000).
It is important to know how the terms of gender are instituted and established
as a presupposition but also to trace the moments by which the binary
system of gender is disputed and challenged (Butler, 2004). Assuming that
gender is a kind of doing (West and Zimmerman, 1987), it is then a practice,
within a setting of constraints, which is done with or for others that are not
necessarily physical others as they may be imaginary (Butler, 2004): phantoms.
As this study shows, the managers interviewed sometimes use gender
resources and create differences and sometimes they do not follow gender
norms, but resist them. It is not what has been internalized in terms of gender,
but rather how action and interaction are guided by strong norms for doing
gender in the right way, leading to the confirmation of these norms and
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avoiding sanctions for deviations. It is the level of interacting that is crucial.
The process of doing gender is not limited to the micro-level (in daily interactions)
or the meso-level (in organizations); it also takes place at the macrolevel
(societal level). Normally this doing is viewed as a matter of complying
with established, non-egalitarian patterns, but resisting or bypassing gendered
norms, the un-doing of gender (Deutsch, 2007) is also a possibility.
Gender categories are unstable and ambiguous (Calás and Smircich 1992) and
what happens at the meso-level and micro-level cannot simply be predicted
or understood from a macro level (see Alvesson, 1998; Leidner, 1991).
Most people probably gender themselves and are gendered by others and
strive to keep a sense of masculinity or femininity intact, using genderappropriate
behaviour and meanings, and do so in order to confirm a gender
identity. Almost any look at mass media representations indicates the
strength of forces creating identity regulation in gendered ways. But we do
not do gender only in hierarchical and discriminatory ways. Defining women
primarily as victims of the male norm freezes the intellectual project too
categorically. And as argued by Flax (1987), Nicholson (1990) and others,
notions like male and female are no longer viewed as fundamental, valid
points of departure but are considered to be unstable and ambiguous and
attribute a false unity.
There is an expectation of congruency5 when a person’s sex matches the
gender label of the job. This equation (between the male body and masculinity
and the female body and femininity) tends to disregard other identities.
Acknowledging that there might also be problems with the concept of congruency,
I use it in the following to show how the attribution of femininity
and masculinity to jobs and bodies is part of doing gender and the conservation
of status quo. I agree with Fournier and Smith (2006, p. 159) that
‘denying the power of these dualisms because they are constructed involves
pulling the grounds for the critiques from under our feet’.
Congruency between jobs and bodies
The competences traditionally required in management positions have been
male gendered (Benschop and Doorewaard, 1998; Billing and Alvesson, 1994;
Calás and Smircich, 1991) and jobs that are constructed as masculine are
believed to be antithetical to women and congruent with men. I use congruency
in the sense that there is a presumed agreement or balance between the
individual and the context or job.
Femininity and masculinity are social constructions; cultural ideas of
what is regarded as suitable for men and women, including jobs which are
congruent with our sex. Constructing jobs as masculine and feminine then
reproduces stereotypes and the status quo. The idea we have of gender
influences the gendered division of labour. However, most jobs can be
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
constructed in any of these terms by emphasizing certain characteristics and
downplaying others (Leidner, 1991). Many jobs are not constructed in
gender terms; some remain unlabelled and some may be constructed as
feminine and filled of by men and vice versa. Attribution of femininity to
women (female bodies) as if this were a natural takes place in a normative
framework in which the assignment of femininity to femaleness is one
mechanism for the production of gender itself (Butler, 2004). We should
differentiate between female or male and feminine or masculine, where
female or male work refers to work done by women or men, respectively.
Feminine or masculine work is work ascribed the traditional characteristics
of women’s or men’s work, respectively.
Job descriptions are not static either and a job’s gender might switch.
Some jobs that were believed to be archetypically women’s (or men’s) jobs
a century ago have now changed gender (for example, clerk and secretary)
(Kirkham and Loft, 1993) or have a mixed gender (physicians), and this
varies culturally (Alvesson and Billing, 2009). Thus, in the USA 71 per cent
of doctors are men, and in Russia 75 per cent of doctors are women (Sweet
and Meiksins, 2008).
With regard to women in men’s higher level jobs an incongruence is
expected and vice versa for men in women’s jobs. This is the presupposition
when we adopt the dichotomous thinking. Whereas men benefit from
emphasizing masculinities in women’s jobs (Allan, 1993; Simpson, 2004;
Williams, 1991, 1995) women do not benefit from acting in a feminine way in
a managerial job (Fagenson, 1993). On the contrary, Cheng (1996) claims that
women who ‘do masculinity’ are the most successful, and that workers, who
do masculinity are more successful than others in feminine and masculine
occupations. Gherardi (1995) states that women managers are confronted
with the expectations of being, on the one hand, managerial (read masculine)
enough to be acknowledged as managers and on the other hand, feminine
enough to be recognized and acknowledged as women. Doing gender makes
our surroundings secure and we can expect sanctions if we do not act in
accordance with cultural expectations for our sex (Billing and Alvesson, 1994).
According to Eagly et al. (1992, p. 18), women ‘pay a price in terms of relative
negative evaluation if they intrude on traditionally male domains by adopting
male-stereotypic leadership styles or occupying male-dominated leadership
positions’, whereas they are not devalued when engaging in non-masculine
leadership behaviour.
Static and specific definitions and correlations are of no use and must be
replaced by such questions as: What is, in the local situation, defined as male
and female or masculine and feminine? What is the significance of these
definitions when it comes to creating and recreating subjectivity, that is, the
self-image of a person? All answers must be understood as uncertain and
tentative, not only historically limited, but also locally oriented (Alvesson and
Billing, 2009).
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Organizations may be more interested in other values than what characterized
organizations 10–20 years ago. Creativity, emotions, intuition and
teamwork are now positive code words (Alvesson and Sveningsson, 2003;
Fletcher, 2004) along with empathy, social intelligence and communication
(Fondas, 1997). Social responsibility, ethics and environmental issues are also
on the agenda today. There is a de-masculinization of leadership and dissolution
of the symbolic cultural connection between men and leadership.
However, it may be a mixed blessing if these new values and leadership ideas
are labelled as feminine (see Billing and Alvesson, 2000).
To summarize, because of all these changes and the erosion of the automatic
link between masculinity and management positions, the door to these
positions could be opened for many more women, including those at the
top. The situation is different from a couple of decades ago, where gender
divisions were more rigid. Although there certainly still are examples where
individuals crossing traditional gender lines face sanctions of a more or less
serious nature, today such problems probably emerge in more vague, ambivalent
and ambiguous ways.
In the following the focus is on how the interviewees talk about themselves,
whether and how they construct gender while presenting themselves
as managers, what motivated them to be managers and what sort of experiences
they had as managers. If there is any incongruence in relation to
managerial jobs then this ought to be expressed by the women themselves in
arguing that they had to change to fit in and that the jobwas not aligned to the
way in which they see themselves.
The study
The study was based on qualitative interviews with 20 women managers aged
between 35–60, working in three different organizations (IT, the finance and
banking system and the medical industry, located in Denmark and Sweden).
Of these 19 were cohabiting or married (one was single) and 17 had children
who were mainly teenagers and older. Only a few of the women had young
children. They were working at different managerial levels and only a few
were at the top level. Their nationality is mentioned if it seemed important. All
the interviews were conducted by the author, and each lasted between 1 and
3 hours.
The self-presentation of the interviewees and their retelling of their experiences
of being managers may perhaps be very selective, but what they
choose to tell in an interview was probably important for who they are today,
their present identities. These constructed stories have some relation to the
meaning attached to the past and thus may be more a reflection of this
meaning than a reflection of past reality itself (Richardson, 1997). Because the
storyteller always knows the end of the story there may be some sort of
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
justification of where the person is today (Josselson, 1993). The selfpresentation
of these women is then a story about the choices they have made
throughout their lives and their identities have something to do with the way
they positioned themselves in the interview and in regard to their jobs. They
reflected upon why something happened and how different events are
related to each other and the connection they made between the events
creates meaning. The narrativeway is to argue and answer the question, ‘what
does this mean’? They constructed themselves and their work worlds in
gendered and sometimes non-gendered ways.
Becoming and being a woman manager
Managerial jobs have conventionally been understood to be difficult for
women to get and function in. Because of a presumed incongruence women
have been offered different strategies to overcome their weaknesses to
become and work as managers (Billing and Alvesson, 1994). In this study it is
difficult to detect incongruency with regard to the demands of the jobs, in the
sense that competences were required of these women that it was believed
they did not have. They hold managerial positions which they were recruited
to, applied for, and sometimes were pressed to take on.
Most of the interviewees regarded their early socialization as important for
their career aspirations and most were the oldest or the only child in the
family. (I leave out details of their childhood because of lack of space). Most of
them talked about having taken responsibility in their early years, being
strong, active, very determined, dominant, pushing things forward.
For all the interviewees it was obvious that working full-time (or more)
and their work or career was very important for their identity; and more than
half said that their family was not enough of a challenge for them. Most of
them earned more than their husbands or partners, with whom they shared
housework, or they had hired help. Their education background varied (for
example, a school teacher, engineer and economist), some had advanced
gradually in the organization, others had PhDs and were former researchers
and had been pressed to take on the job. The identity of the latter women in
particular was less connected to being managers than researchers and they
had therefore set a limit to how long they wanted to be in a managerial
To summarize the experiences of the interviewees, it is possible to talk
about four different (ideal) positionings: (a) congruency, (b) congruency and
ambivalence, (c) adjustments and resistance and (d) conditional assimilation.
The first congruency position is occupied by the youngest women managers
(who were under 40 years of age), mainly with an engineering or economic
educational background.
Eva (34) learned that at her former workplace she earned less than her male
colleagues. She confronted her superior manager and said to him, ‘Had I been
Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011 © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
a man, you would have taken for granted that I did a good job and paid me
accordingly’. After this her salary was raised.
They all presented themselves as very good at making decisions and taking
responsibility and some of them said they had been as tomboys as children.
They talked very positively about their workplace (an IT organization). One
(divorced) manager (Mary, aged 36) with two young children praised the
family-friendliness of the organization. She said, ‘this is an organization
which is good at taking care of families’6 in contrast to her former workplace.
They described their colleagues as friends, with whom they had fun and
competed against other firms, and said that they liked to motivate people and
respected their knowledge. They were very oriented toward their colleagues
and subordinates and their needs and ideas. The people working in these
organizations were younger than in the others in the study. The women
thought it was easy to manage men (whom they sometimes called the boys).
Most of their colleagues were men and only one-third were women. It was
not unusual for them to go to the pub together after work. One of them said
that outside the organization she sometimes was taken to be the secretary,
while her (older) male colleague, who was her secretary, was taken to be the
manager.7 She thought this was odd.
Most of these younger women managers never thought of themselves as
crossing a line or challenging traditional ideas about women and women’s
work. Are these women just not gender aware? For some, their situation may
change if and when they have children. But for the moment I would claim for
these women their engineering identity is in the foreground and their gender
identity in the background. They are well educated and are surrounded by
creative people who mainly need management to support them in their
efforts to be even more creative than their competitors.
Position (b) is also a congruency position. Here, we find the women who
were ambivalent about and even reluctant to accept a managerial position.
Mona (48, in the medical industry) was asked if she would take on the job as
head of the department in connection to an organizational change:
I was very unsure if I should accept. Suddenly manage people who were
former colleagues and make decisions on behalf of the group. I was very
unsure, doubtful, but accepted it in the end.
Karin (46) had her doubts as well. ‘They will faint when they hear that I have
been appointed. Many have worked here much longer and know the
company better’.
These women were former researchers. They used to work in group
projects and had then been appointed managers of the project (or the department).
They had liked the research part of the job, which they had to quit, and
were afraid of not being able to do research again. More of them had doubts
about the possibility of retaining their friendship with their colleagues. They
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
also disliked parts of the (uninteresting) job demands and they especially
thought that administration was a nuisance. Thus, Nina (45, in the medical
industry) said:
It is not my goal in this life to be a manager. If they do not accept me as the
person I am then I do not want to be a manager. I wouldn’t want to take on
the role of managing and be a horrible person [laughs]. I wouldn’t do that,
then I would rather do something else, work in the same branch but not as
a manager.
Because of the loss of former relationships with colleagues and the lack of
new networks many of the managers experienced loneliness. These tensions,
combined with the problem that the job was less interesting than their former
research job, meant for some that they thought of leaving the job. Most of
them had been asked to take on the job and they did not expect to be
managers for more than 3 years. Nina also said that in the beginning of her
career as a manager she was willing to spend much time on many meetings
and discussions before things were decided but after a while she felt that
what she calls the male style is more efficient:
Men will say, ‘This is what we’ll do’, where women will say, ‘Are you sure?
We need some more meetings about this’. I believe that women often do
not dare to make these unpleasant decisions, which men do. I feel I have
changed towards the male way of doing things. Sometimes you just have to
decide about things, there can be too many meetings and discussions. You
have to make a decision and go on. Otherwise everybody is frustrated.
She emphasizes that women are quick at saying when something is not good
enough: ‘Women dare to say stop … otherwise we go down the wrong track,
and perhaps waste a lot of time’. This is an example of how some norms may
be worth following and others can be abandoned. It makes sense for Nina to
gender these different kinds of behaviour, based on what she has seen men
and women say and do. However, culture may play a bigger role than gender.
Swedish managers were much more consensus-oriented than the Danish
managers. Perhaps this is also a reason that they were more willing to resign
from their position than the Danish women. For the Swedes it was not
important to be a manager as they had an attractive alternative, which was to
go back to doing research. It should be added that for those Swedish women,
thewage difference and status difference between the former position and the
managerial is marginal.
Women in position (c) talked about the necessary adjustments that had to
be made to fit normative expectations as to how they were to be as managers.
This was mainly in the banking sector, where there is a pronounced gender
division of labour, with women in the less prestigious staff divisions and men
in the line functions. They were expected to be more understanding, caring
and soft.
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These women have a position that is not immediately seen as congruent
with their sex. Others perceived a misalignment between their identity and
work gender and, partly as a result of communications of others, experienced
by the person crossing the gender lines. As social identity theory shows,
when an individual is defined (defining herself), as part of a specific social
category (for example, that of women) the response is different from that
when the person is perceived in another identity (professional, manager)
(Haslam, 2004).
Their reactions to these expectations differed. Some of the women tried to
change so that they lived up to gender-stereotypical expectations better while
others chose not to. Catherine (head of a bank, 58) said that she got the
impression that she should be more feminine and softer in her approach. But
she chose not to. She states ‘I am a manager, not a woman manager’.
Catherine:We have these rules and routines and if you are not taking these
seriously then I am pretty determined. Then I get the impression that they
do not think that I am feminine enough. Then I am too tough.
Interviewer: Is this what they say?
Catherine: No, but I have heard rumours that I — considering I am a
woman—you have to be softer. But those who support me say the rules are
Catherine, however, resists the gendering attempts, retaining her beliefs of
what is the right way to act. She is not just a passive conformist seeking
acceptance but chooses her own way. If doing gender is managing one’s
actions so that the outcome is gender-appropriate then one might say that she
was undoing gender.
There were others who accepted the changes they had to make. One
woman (50, manager, IT) said:
Of course, you have to adapt to the organization, you work in…. I have
become softer. Before I was much more direct, people were scared of me
before … I was very dominant.
She adds that male and female managers are very similar at her workplace:
‘We all have to adapt to organizations, and in some cases, here in IT, an
individual may feel that the expectations fit very well with who she
really is’.
Another woman experienced a change in her colleagues’ attitudes. They
reacted differently after she had become a (bank) manager. She has a
working-class background and had problems, for example, when she used
irony and wondered why it was acceptable to be ironic before she was
appointed as a manager. Some of these women managers were very selfcritical
and thought that they would be blamed for being insufficiently direct
enough and clear-spoken, and so on. For them it was somewhat of a balance
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
between being sufficiently soft and sufficiently clear and direct. The women
who talked about themselves as being assertive when they were children
seemed to have no problems being direct as adults.
A small group of older (and primarily Danish) women who fall into position
(d) did not experience tensions. They talked very positively about what
they called a masculine style, for example ‘the ability to make decisions fast
and disregard details’. Some of them thought that it was much easier for men
to be managers and that they could learn from that. These women could be
said to be in a token position, which often means their heightened visibility
(as members of their category) and greater exposure to gender-stereotypical
assumptions (Benschop and Doorewaard, 1998; Billing and Alvesson, 1994;
Kanter, 1977).
Susanne (55, top manager in the finance sector for over 20 years) talked
positively about what she called the masculine culture and said, ‘I am now
almost a man’. She also said that she has now learned the rules of the game
and is now working on men’s premises. She emphasizes the importance of
strategies and efficiency and claims that she chooses her style according to the
situation. She says that as a young woman she used to be very shy but that she
is now very dominant:
There are not many women in this business. And I realized that I was
different because I was a woman. All my colleagues were men … when I
had to negotiate in London there were only men, when we met in this
board and that ministry, they were all men, except Alva from the
To be assimilated means to adapt to the positive features of the idealized
group and to reduce your potential differences and increase your similarity to
that group (such as dressing for success). The women who managed to do
that were included in the male clubs. Ulla (57, manager for over 20 years) sees
herself as superior to the ‘boys’, she works with:
We have a Godfather system. If you get a Godfather, you are part of the
club…. It is a male club. I have always been carried by the men. I also take
part in the boys’ discussion, then you are part of the group (there are no
other women).
When Ulla talks about the men she calls them the ‘boys’, while women are
just called ‘women’. Thus she is creating a different gender power balance.
The women in position (d) support their own assimilation. They have tried
to reduce their differences with the other male managers and actively sought
to be more like them. They have been accepted as members of the male
groups and attained a positive social identity via this membership. They thus
accept the given rules and norms in the male-dominated organizations and
their focus is on what is good for the organization in terms of its efficiency.
They have no problems being managers on the given terms. However, they
Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011 © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
criticize the male managers for abusing their power, for not being good at
managing people and for directing too much and being obsessed by status.
They were very critical about this behaviour and thus I suggest that they are
only conditionally, not fully assimilated.
According to these women the male managers did not live up to their
idealized image of a manager. This then leads us to ask how we can separate
the demands of the organization from what is constructed as male. These
women privileged what they labelled masculine characteristics because this
was necessary for them to conduct their affairs (see Sayer, 2000), but they
thought that the male managers they knew failed to live up to their idea of
good management.
The four (ideal-typical) positions indicate that women experience a
managerial job very differently, dependent on their age, socialization, education,
class background, nationality, and different workplaces and departments.
This, of course, is the same for men. Men and women exhibit forms
of behaviour at work that are a complex mix of orientations, values and
styles that are part of their personality, that they have learned over the years
during their upbringing and socialization and early work experiences,
under pressure to adapt to the structures and contingencies under which
they work.
Position (a) and (b) do not cause problems or anxiety. These women have
cultural and social capital, which provide them with sufficient stamina to take
on the job but also to leave it if it gets too boring. The women in position (c)
felt that they had to adjust in unwanted directions and they might not wish to
hold on to their leadership position for a very long time. In position (d) the
assimilation the women have achieved and accepted meant (total) loyalty to
the organization. The latter reversed gender doing in the sense that they
named men boys and sometimes they used macho language when talking to
It makes sense to find out where and how is gender important or not important
in the specific work context. As Butler (2004) states, a norm has no
ontological status. Is has to be acted out to exist as a norm. Women and men
contribute to the construction of norms in the daily doing of gender. To say
that the male is the norm in management is too general a statement, it
assumes a dualism instead of investigating whether a norm is in fact practiced.
Leadership positions differ and so do organizational cultures. The local
work cultures influence how we are constructed, what people think and
believe and which values, norms and ideas are prevalent. It is in the daily
practicing or doing of gender that norms will be challenged or supported and
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
the manager is created in an interaction process with the colleagues and
Some of the female managers interviewed felt they needed to distance
themselves from other women and from roles ascribed to women. They saw
themselves as exceptions to this picture. They said that certain changes had
been necessary, like developing characteristics that are mostly ascribed as
masculine. In this sense, they confirm that the characteristics ascribed as
masculine are important. In the finance sector assimilation was mainly prevalent
for older Danish women managers in positions at the highest level. These
women may have experienced feelings of uncertainty when they became
managers some decades ago. They have crossed traditional gender lines and
challenged traditional ideas about what is suitable work behaviour for
women. They work in older organizations, which may be more resistant to
change. It may have been important for them to act according to the prevalent
rules of the game.
Even though some of the interviewees thought that they were well suited
for the job before getting it, some found that their colleagues attempted to
‘read’ them as more traditional women. Stereotypical societal and cultural
gender norms created expectations for some of the women in managerial
positions to behave in accordance with gender-stereotypical ideas of women.
One of the main problems was the classic one: they were expected to create
more congruency (in the eyes of their co-workers) by taking on a softer style
(Eagly et al., 1992). In some instances it was also part of their selfunderstanding
that perhaps they should be better at listening, being soft and
being more social. This was so that it could be acknowledged there was not
too big a discrepancy between their biological body and their managerial
performance (Parker, 2002). The thesis presented earlier, that our identity
may be questioned when we work in what is constructed as gender incongruent
areas is confirmed. In some cases there is pressure to change according
to peoples’ expectations and individuals may find it difficult to behave as they
feel (Billing and Alvesson, 2000). Because many of them have internalized
these expectations, this will influence how their colleagues perceive them and
probably affect their understandings of themselves. In some cases the women
felt that they had to change according to subordinates’ expectations in order
to receive acceptance (as women and managers). This is especially true in the
banking system, where there is a pronounced division of labour and women
were expected to be softer. Now which sort of norm are we here confronted
with? To be not quite (soft) enough is a regulation norm, as one is being
compared to what is believed to be soft (see Catherine, above). Gherardi
(1995) suggests that women have to balance between on the one hand being
managerial and on the other being feminine enough to be acknowledged as
women. If they position themselves to meet people’s expectations, they accept
the discourses through which women are constituted as women. These discourses
are, however, not simple, but contradictory and diverse.
Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011 © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
In the medical industry these managers’ problems were not primarily or
obviously gender related: they had more to do with, for example, loyalty to
their former co-workers (researchers), versus their loyalty to the top management.
For some of these women managers it had been very important, as they
said, to stay true to themselves, meaning that they felt they had to distance
themselves from parts of the job. For these women the managerial position
was a sort of role they had assumed and if the script did not fit they would
rather do something else. As long as they could manage two different scripts
and these were not too much in opposition to each other they would stay in
the job. They would accept small adjustments but no more than that. Some of
them felt they had changed in a direction they themselves did not quite like.
For some of them it was necessary to be able to detach themselves from their
manager role and they talked about situations where they did not have to be
the boss.
In IT, the youngest organization, there were only a few problems. The
women here had been part of the workforce from the start (of the organization)
and they were also the youngest of the interviewees and felt that they
matched this particular organization. They only talked about gendering
taking place outside the organization and in former workplaces. These
women are more accustomed to interacting cross-sexually throughout their
education and may not have the same problems or uncertainties in interacting
with people of the opposite sex (see Billing, 2006). The people working there
are self-directed and may not need so much management, other than being
valued as individuals.
There are generational differences. The habitus (Bourdieu, 1977) of the
older women is different from that of younger women and thus they are
provided with different dispositions and capabilities to act upon and against
gendering. Although they all regarded their job as a sort of lifestyle, not much
constrained by family life, the experiences of these managers differed. The
older women were in token positions and it is perhaps fair to say that they
were reproducing norms set by men. However, in their performances as
managers they were also counteracting the dominant norm by exposing and
criticizing male managerial behaviour. They characterized themselves as
ideal workers and as being more efficient than men. The youngest women
worked in flat organizations and performance cultures, where they felt they
were equal to their co-workers and if they were met with gendering attempts
they flatly resisted them.
Norms are context dependent and they change and develop. At the same
time the male norm is a phenomenon developed through history and a reality
that is experienced daily for some and therefore is almost impossible to
capture theoretically. Using this term easily reproduces the differences
between the sexes and we might get caught in the system of binary logics. The
term is lacking in nuances, in light of the much more profound forces at work
behind our backs. A strong tendency to look for one perspective capable of
© 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011
explaining everything is related to the whole idea of assuming something
universal about the situation of women and men as the point of departure for
a general critique of dominating social relations.
Management jobs have traditionally been understood as being constructed
according to male norms and thus creating difficulties for women. These
include the material part of their work as well as the stereotypical expectations
and perceptions and reactions from others. The taken-for-granted
point of departure is that women and men are essentially different, as
shown by the ascribed congruency between men and management jobs.
Consequently, there is a tendency to cast women as victims of these dominant
depictions. This study tries to challenge such fatalism and calls for
more sophisticated ways to interpret women’s experiences in management
positions to enhance our understanding of the complexity of everyday
organizational processes. Organizational contexts, lines of work and cultures
vary and gender discourses are contradictory and ambiguous. They
may constrain us or they may do the opposite. Talking about men and
women 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 anthing about gender as such. It is a fluid variable, shifting
over space and time Butler (1990, 2004). A term like male has no simple or
absolute content.
The study has shown that gender categories are sometimes used when the
women make sense of their daily experiences but they are not solid. As the
narratives drawn from the empirical research demonstrate, the categories are
complex and the discourses surrounding the women influence them in their
positionings. Sometimes the women accept the discourses. At other times
they respond to gendering attempts by challenging and resisting discourses,
thus undermining stereotypical gender regulation norms and sometimes
turning them upside down.
There are great variations in gender equality and in gender constructions
and there are workplaces where women and men are not perceived in
accordance with a gender norm. Notably, younger women as well as those
with the highest education levels did not face any expectations of conforming
to gendered norms. Management is not a coherent job. Norms change
as we respond to them, by doing or undoing gender. To insist on using
binaries legitimizes the dominance of men instead of questioning it and
thus, perversely, performs the very regulatory operation of power we seek
to critique.
Volume 18 Number 3 May 2011 © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd
I would like to thank Mats Alvesson, Karen Ashcraft, Hugh Willmott,
Amanda Roan, Katie Sullivan and the anonymous reviewers for helpful comments
on earlier drafts of this article.
1. In Denmark 74 per cent of women and 82 per cent of men have waged work. In the
age group 25–49 88 per cent of Danish women have waged work (Statistikbanken,
2008). In the USA women comprise 47 per cent of women in the total US labour
force (US Department of Labor, 2009).
2. In Sweden 62 per cent of the managers in the public sector are women (78 per cent
of all workers). In the private sector 40 per cent of the workers are women who
hold 25 per cent of the managerial positions. However at the top of the private
sector only 5 per cent are women (Statistics Sweden, 2008). In the UK the number
of women managers has increased from a few per cent in the 1970s to more than
one-third at the present time (Eurostat, 2006).
3. According to UNESCO (Fine et al., 2009) women outnumber men in university
enrolments and graduation rates worldwide. In terms of graduation, women
outnumber men in 75 of 98 countries.
4. Engineers are a diversified group and I would not claim that doing engineering is
doing gender, as one reviewer suggested. In some engineering specialities (such
as building and chemistry) more than one-third of these specialists are women
(Denmark’s Technical University, 2004).
5. The term, congruency comes from Latin (congruere) and means come together or
agree. It should be used as a wider concept than just seeing jobs in gender terms.
I use it here to indicate that an individual feels there is a balance between the self
and the job.
6. Every second week, when Mary took care of the children, she had a normal
working week, and every second week, when the children were at their father’s
home, she worked at least 60 hours a week. In this organizational culture there
was room for flexibility. This kind of workplace has in the last couple of years been
ranked in the top five best places to work.
7. Prestige has historically been allocated to what men do and hence women are not
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