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The construction of gender in the workplace: The structuring of identity in women managers and professionals

Grant, Jan (1993) The construction of gender in the workplace: The structuring of identity in women managers and professionals. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This study investigates the complex ways in which personal life and social structure are interwoven in the construction of gender and identity in women managers and professionals. The 92 participants selected for the study are drawn from five different capital cities in Australia, from senior and middle positions in organizations, and from five different organizational contexts: private enterprise, public service, academia, trade unions, and community advocacy. Utilizing qualitative methodology, the research explores the respondents' organizational experiences and the interaction between the "public" and "private" domains in the structuring of their identity. Data was collected using an in-depth interview and an extensive written questionnaire.

The study integrates theoretical perspectives from a number of different disciplines so as to create a more adequate framework for understanding the complexities of women's organizational journeys. Drawing upon critical theory, identity theory, feminist theory, and the sociology of organizations, an effort is made to contribute both to theory development and to the understanding of the actual experiences of women in middle and senior positions in organizations. The three main structures that underpin the gender order are investigated in relation to the structuring of identity: the structure of power, the structure of cathexis, and the sexual division of labour.

In particular, the study considers how identity is implemented in the workplace, how workplace practices and experiences lead to a reconstruction of identity, the kinds of experiences which threaten that identity, and strategies that are used in coping with serious threats to identity. In addition, it examines some of the developmental influences on gender identity formation, the impact of current family structure in the maintenance of gender identity, the influence of the structure of cathexis in the workplace on gender identity, and the influence of workplace norms on gender identity.

Major conclusions drawn are that identity is constantly being constructed and reconstructed throughout adulthood; that women both implement some aspects of gendered identities at work, and resist other aspects of the organizational production of gender; that relationships and relating continue to be central to the construction of the identity of women managers and professionals; that a significant proportion of threats to identity in the workplace are related to gender; that there are a multiplicity of ways to be a "woman" manager or professional; that the structure of cathexis is resistant to change; that other gendered identities such as motherhood are undergoing considerable reconstruction; that the structure of cathexis in the workplace is problematic for women managers and professionals; that women professionals and managers both "fit in" and resist or challenge current organizational norms, expectations and practices; and that gender as a social category is continually reconstructed, reproduced and resisted in the interwoven workplaces of organizations and home.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Social Sciences
Notes: Note to the author: If you would like to make your thesis openly available on Murdoch University Library's Research Repository, please contact: Thank you.
Supervisor(s): Walker, Iain
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