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Women in Management, Article Critique Example

Pages: 6

Words: 1527

Article Critique

“Are Women in ManagementVictims of the Phantom of theMale Norm?”Research Study by Yvonne Due Billing

In her article entitled “Are Women in ManagementVictims of the Phantom of theMale Norm?,” author and researcher Yvonne Due Billing examines the complex nature of gender norms and stereotypes from a managerial perspective in the context of the workplace. Billing presents the results of a qualitative study that seeks to shed light on how gender norms and stereotypes shape the roles of managers, and in what ways women in managerial positions choose to conform to, reject, or otherwise respond to the vagaries and pressures of masculinity that have for so long been viewed as an inherent component of such positions. Billing’s study has some shortcomings; any qualitative study of this type is, by its nature, reflective of the preconceptions and expectations of researcher(s) who frame the questions and who conduct the research. With that in mind, however, Billing manages to tackle a subject that is inherently fraught with potential controversy and does so in a direct, forthright manner. Given the limitations of the study, it could be dismissed by some as offering too narrow a view on the issues at hand to be of significant import; in the end, however, it is to Billing’s credit that she succeeds in mining some conclusions that may prove valuable to those who recognize that management is no longer the sole purview of men, and who seek to find ways of allowing both men and women to contribute their best efforts in such roles.

Discussions about the differences between men and women are as old as humanity itself; discussions about how these differences purportedly inform the abilities of men and women to carry out particular tasks or to take on particular roles in society are equally epochal, yet are notably timely in an age where women are finding more and more opportunities to take on jobs and other roles that have been historically seen as the sole domain of men (Oswald, 2008). There are a number of shifting and evolving social, economic, political, and cultural factors that are driving these changes in the workplace, and in society at large; an adequate examination of these various factors would –and does- fill countless studies. Billing’s intent is not to dissect the overriding confluence of forces that have wrought such sweeping changes, but rather to examine on a more personal level how women who are occupying roles in the workplace that have been traditionally dominated by men see themselves in terms of the gender stereotypes and gender norms that have historically shapes these roles.

Perhaps the most significant factor to consider when discussing the nature of male-dominated and female-dominated workplace roles is the widely-held view that men and women simply think differently (Simson, 2005). As noted, a thorough examination of this point of view –and any conclusion about its veracity- would be far too expansive to fit into Billing’s study (or to a critique of said study). In the context of Billing’s discussion, the idea that men and women think differently is largely irrelevant; what is relevant is that such a belief has been held widely enough and long enough that is has permeated the workplace to an undeniable degree. Traditional suppositions of masculinity and femininity have shaped the development of workplace roles to the degree that managerial positions have long been seen as being best suited for men (Birute, 2009); whether such suppositions are right or wrong is, frankly, beside the point. What is of primary significance is that these suppositions are so ubiquitous that women in managerial positions often view themselves in terms of their relationship to masculinity, and find themselves making conscious choices and decisions based on the degree to which they embrace or reject the idea that they must exhibit a measure of masculinity as a function of their positions.

In order to examine this topic, Billing carried out an interview-based qualitative study of women who hold managerial positions. Her subjects ranged in age from 35-60, and worked in IT, finance and banking, and the medical industry. Some of the subjects had children, most were involved in long-term relationships or marriages, and most were in mid-level management positions. After gathering her information, Billing delineated what she describes as “four different (ideal) positioning,” with the term “position” referring to the subject’s self-perceptions about how well she fit into the managerial role, particularly in terms of the masculine norms and stereotypes that have historically shaped managerial roles. These four “positions,” according to Billing, are (a) congruency, (b) congruency andambivalence, (c) adjustments and resistance and (d) conditional assimilation. Those in the first position felt a natural fit with the position of manager, giving little thought to the relevancy of gender norms; these subjects, perhaps unsurprisingly, tended to be among the youngest respondents to Billing’s inquiries. Subjects in the second position were those who were initially reluctant to take on managerial positions, often leaving successful posts in research and other departments to move to management. Once ensconced in their new roles, however, these subjects found themselves well-suited for the jobs at hand. Subjects in the third position were those who tended to give more thought to the normative behaviors and assumptions about gender and management, and found themselves making choices related to the idea that they should exhibit masculine traits to be effective managers (some embraced the idea, while others rejected it; the point is that it was a significant factor in one way or another). In the final position were those subjects who, in Billing’s term, “assimilated” into the organization by striking a balance between their feminine and masculine managerial traits in ways that worked for them; the degree to which they embraced masculine traits was not as important as the fact that femininity and masculinity were significant components in terms of how they viewed their positions and the way they conducted themselves as managers.

There are, of course, a wide range of factors that influence how women assume the responsibilities that come with managerial positions   ; beyond gender there are other cultural considerations, such as statistical data about how commonly other women are found in management positions. Billing notes, for example, that in countries with high rates of taxation, it is common for couples to both be employed full-time, simply so they can afford to maintain an adequate lifestyle. In this context, it is not unusual for a significant number of women to have ascended to the ranks of management (though they are, even in these countries, still outnumbered in the realm of management by their male counterparts). Billing also notes the existence of significant disparities regarding the number of male and female managers in some industries, such as banking and finance. It is in those industries where the number of men in managerial positions far outweighs the number of women in similar positions, Billing notes, that the number of women in the fourth “position” is greatest. Simply put: in industries where managerial positions are primarily held by men, those women who have assumed managerial positions are most likely to give significant consideration to issues of masculine gender norms and to make decisions based on their perceived need to embrace such norms.

As mentioned earlier, Billing’s study is not without its limitations. Her pool of subjects is very small; she interviewed 20 women to glean her data. Beyond the limited number of participants, her scope was further limited by her goal of viewing her subjects through the lens of these gender norms, giving little regard to the range of other factors that inform and guide how a manager carries out his or her responsibilities. This does not mean that Billing ignored or was unaware of the other factors that influence how managers do their jobs; she did discuss many of them in the introductory section. What it does mean, however, is that she may have risked giving too much weight to the issue of gender norms, especially in terms of how the very nature of her questions may have influenced the responses to those questions. With that said, there is no doubt that the nature of gender norms and stereotypes, and the way they shape expectations both for and of men and women in managerial positions, is a worthy and fascinating area of inquiry. After examining the way women comport themselves in terms of expectations and suppositions related to masculine gender norms, further studies may seek to determine ways that, in the future, the very nature of managerial roles could be shaped and developed in terms of expectations and suppositions related to feminine gender norms. As women continue to redefine what roles they can take on in the workplace, it is only reasonable to determine not just what roles they can inhabit, but how they can so as well.

Bibliography

Billing, Yvonne Due. Are women in management victims of the phantom male norm? Gender, Work and Organization. 18(3). May 2011.

Oswald, Debra L. Gender stereotypes and women’s reports of liking and ability in traditionally masculine and feminine occupations. Psychology of Women Quarterly. 32(2). June 2008.pp196-203.

Regine, Birute. Leadership: cultivating feminine presence. Interbeing. 3(1). Spring 2009. pp5-11.

Simson, Rosalind. Feminine thinking. Social Theory and Practice. 31(1). January 2005. pp1-26.

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