Historically, the Western concept of ‘management’ was invented “by men, about men, for men” (Cunliffe, 2009). The clue is in the term ‘man’agement!
In recent times, organisations have sought to redress (no pun intended!) this by promoting gender balance in leadership. Looking at the stats on the make up of leadership teams for large organisations, it would seem that we still have a long way to go.
For me, however, this is more than just a question of equality. It’s about the legacy of gendered organisational practice that still informs our practice today – ie, the masculine model of leadership that we have come to accept as the norm. If we don’t change this paradigm, it doesn’t really matter how many women get into management because they will be (are) constrained and evaluated by the logic and value system of a macho world.
That said, I’m not advocating replacing patriarchy with matriarchy because this would merely mean substituting one form of dominance for another.
Thanks to critical theorists, we have come to realise that manageralism is an ideologically motivated and class-based phenomena; and that it is possible to emancipate people from the existing “asymmetrical power relations, dependencies and constraints” (Johnson et al., 2006).
Why is this important? According to Cunliffe, management and managing is “not just something one does, but is more crucially, who one is and how we relate to others”.
I believe this to be axiomatic, in which case,
- we have an ethical responsibility to reflect on the kind of world we continue to co-create by inadvertently perpetuating the gendered, elitist managerialist legacy; and,
- more importantly, we have a moral responsibility to change the status quo.
I find it curious that when people (let’s face it, its mostly women) run and deliver complex projects in a social context using their highly honed relational skills, we call them organisers, but when organising is done in the workplace, we (still mostly men) are called leaders and managers.
Leadership is a relational practice. Unfortunately contemporary practice is still informed by the ‘hunter-gatherer’ paradigm, albeit now in an economic jungle. Unless we change the alpha male notion of leadership, it is unlikely that genuine gender balance will ever be a reality.
I believe there is a need to reframe leadership as a communal activity based on a pluralistic, dialogical model of relating. In which case, adopting the social organiser model for workplace communities might be a jolly good place to start!
CUNLIFFE, A. L. 2009. A very short, fairly interesting and reasonably cheap book about management, London ; Thousand Oaks, Calif., SAGE.
JOHNSON, P., BUEHRING, A., CASSELL, C. & SYMON, G. 2006. Evaluating qualitative management research: Towards a contingent criteriology. International Journal of Management Reviews, 8, 131-156.