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Gender, Identity and the Culture of Organizations reviewed


Title: Gender, Identity and the Culture of Organizations
Editors: Iiris Aaltio and Albert J Mills
Publisher: Routledge, 2002
ISBN 0-415-27001-4

Buy this from the TrainingZONE - Blackwells bookshop.

The impressive list of contributors gives us a clue to the intended readership of this book - nearly all are Professors and the least qualified appears to be one solitary PhD student. So be warned - the book is full of sentences that have to be read slowly and thought about carefully. That said, I found it worth the effort as there were numerous nuggets.

The theme, as indicated in the title, is the ways in which organisations develop identities and cultures that contain within them implicit assumptions that actually then shape the way gender is perceived. In other words, the way organisations function and the norms this leads too are powerful influences in creating meaning. For example, 'macho' organisations create a very different profile for masculine/feminine that does a 'caring' organisation. Note that they define gender as 'a cultured knowledge' and sex as a biological classification - although the two may coincide, the book concentrates on gender and how it is constructed.

After an initial chapter that gives a brief history of related approaches and then previews the rest of the chapters, there are two main sections: Part 2 contains papers on theories and Part 3 consists of a number of research case studies using various research methodologies.

The following quotes give you a good idea of what the book is about:

"As today's organizations are almost like global, anonymous cities, individuals in their identity formation processes come up against organizational frames, and unavoidably meet gender aspects at the same time. They build their individual identities based on gender, and at the same time organizational identities become built."" Aaltio & Mills, p.5

".... social practices are so adept at engendering differently gendered subjectivities that their cultural construction becomes invisible, and the final assemblage appears entirely 'natural'." Bruni & Gheradi, p.22

Other ideas and comments I particularly noted are:

  • Some of the ways in which managerial cultures are typically masculine: authoritarianism, paternalism, entrepreneurialism, informalism and careerism · how we need postcolonialism to challenge the way in which colonialism created a hierarchy of binaries (e.g. active-passive, developed-undeveloped, superior-inferior) that became inextricably linked with being colonisers or colonized - and how these binaries are still reinforced when we think of 'helping' those less fortunate · how tourism commodifies other cultures and museums imply the need to protect other cultures from themselves · the way in which research via 'body counting' may show plenty of women employed but overlook the cultural beliefs they operate within · the notion of bio-women but social men, with the latter being used in a derogatory way to describe women who fit society's norms for males · how diversity management initiatives can be viewed as: levelling the playing field for marginalized groups; or as window dressing that fails to address structurally embedded power differences; or as places where compliance and resistance may emerge but still get harnessed to the needs of the organisation.

  • As a writer and consultant on mentoring (Hay, 1999 Transformational Mentoring, Sherwood), I was interested to see it described through different perspectives as: helping the disadvantaged gain access to connections; as a way for protégés to learn how to work the system; and as a vehicle to align the protégé's identity with the organisational goals - which neatly encapsulates why I prefer to encourage transformational mentoring where mentees are prompted to work out their own identities and future paths. · how clinical research, which seeks to solve a specific problem, may be welcomed within organisations but ethnographic research, which takes a broader and longer perspective, may not as the benefits to the organisation are less obvious - and indeed there may be disadvantages in looking too closely at what goes on.
  • And one final quote which for me sums up the message of this book: "Gendered processes, as cultures are increasingly thought to be, create systems of relative advantage/disadvantage, agency/constraint, and autonomy/independence in terms of a distinction based on sex and gender, contributing to institutionalised systems of equality and inequality." Wicks & Bradshw, p.140

    So, if the above themes interest, intrigue or worry you, or if you have responsibilities for the creation and/or continuance of organisational cultures (i.e. if you work with or within organisations in any role), and you can cope with a high Fog Index, get this book.

    Reviewed by Julie Hay
    A D International


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