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'Woman as Project': Key issues for Women Who Want to Get On

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Sharon MavinORCiD, Dr Patricia Bryans, Dr Nicola Patterson



The following chapter explores senior women’s key issues for women who want to get on as managers and leaders. We present analysis drawn from a wider qualitative study of 81 senior women who hold UK FTSE 100/250 Executive/Non-Executive Director and/or influential leader positions[1], set against a background assumption that “male-defined constructions of work and career success continue to dominate organizational research and practice” (O’Neill et al, 2008: 727). The senior women participants have achieved a traditionally “masculine strategic situation” (Tyler, 2005: 569) in breaking through the gendered glass ceiling (Morrison et al., 1992) and in doing so may be viewed as no longer “the organizational second sex” or “Others of management” (Tyler, 2005: 572). The study, following Ellemers et al. (2012) and Chesterman et al. (2005), therefore explores experiences of women in high places who have overcome gendered barriers to achieve senior leader positions, and advances Terjesen et al.’s (2009: 332) call for “truly innovative research into the female directors’ experiences” currently lacking in the literature. Our analysis, subsequent themes and conceptualization result from 81 senior women’s responses to the interview question; what are the key issues women need to be aware of as they progress into senior positions? The women participants are not a homogeneous group and while they share experiences as ‘elite’ women in organizations and at the same time we recognize women as oppressed and marginalized as leaders in patriarchal organizations, they do not share the same experiences (Bryans and Mavin, 2003; Griffin, 1995). We are aware that our analysis of key issues for women who want to get on is influenced by the participant’s biographies, career histories, bio-data, life stages and their societal and organisational contexts. Our assumptions that “women’s careers are complex and multi-dimensional, yet work practices appear to exist in a single dimension – the male defined organizational dimension” (O’Neill et al, 2008: 735) and that after decades of women working, the predominant attitude is still ‘think manager, think male’ (Schein, 1991; 2007), provide a gendered background to, but are not the focus of our research. We offer six themes which encapsulate senior women’s key issues for women who want to get on as managers and leaders and draw upon doing gender well and differently against sex-category (Mavin and Grandy, 2011, 2012) to conceptualize our contribution of ‘woman as a project’; an architecture for instrumental personal organizing of holistic [personal and career] lives. [1] The Senior Women at Work Project was supported by Northumbria University 2012-2013

Publication metadata

Author(s): Mavin S, Williams J, Bryans P, Patterson N

Editor(s): Broadbridge AM; Fielden SL

Publication type: Book Chapter

Publication status: Published

Book Title: Handbook of gendered careers in management: Getting in, getting on, getting out.

Year: 2015

Pages: 305-321

Print publication date: 24/04/2015

Online publication date: 02/01/2015

Acceptance date: 01/02/2014

Series Title: Research Handbooks in Business and Management

Publisher: Edward Elgar

Place Published: Cheltenham, UK


DOI: 10.4337/9781782547709.00028

Notes: 9781782547693 paperback. See also

Library holdings: Search Newcastle University Library for this item

ISBN: 9781782547686