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Women Elite Leaders Doing Respectable Business Femininity: How Privilege is Conferred, Contested and Defended through the Body.

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sharon MavinORCiD



This paper offers a theory of respectable business femininity. Respectable business femininity is theorized as a discursive and relational process that explains tensions women elite leaders experience at the nexus of being both One and Other and sometimes privileged, embedded notions of leadership as masculine and wider expectations of acceptable embodied femininity. Such tensions manifest through a disciplining of women leaders' bodies and appearance by self-and-others, as a means of appraising women as credible elite leaders and respectable women. Through a qualitative study we show how, within sites of ambiguity, embodied leadership and subjectivities are both enabled and constrained. Accounts highlight how privilege is fluid and (de)stabilized in that it is conferred, contested and defended through women’s bodies and appearance. We advance understandings of contemporary respectable femininity, privilege at work, and body work, and consider practical implications for women leaders and management education.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mavin S, Grandy G

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Gender, Work & Organization

Year: 2016

Volume: 23

Issue: 4

Pages: 379-396

Print publication date: 01/07/2016

Online publication date: 06/05/2016

Acceptance date: 07/02/2016

Date deposited: 09/09/2017

ISSN (print): 0968-6673

ISSN (electronic): 1468-0432

Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell Publishing Ltd.


DOI: 10.1111/gwao.12130


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