A discursive approach to understanding women leaders in working life

Journal of Business Ethics 34 (3-4):255 - 267 (2001)
In this paper, we develop a theoretical framework for understanding women leaders in working life. Our starting point is in statistics and earlier women-in-management literature, which show that women leaders represent a minority of the managerial population. We assume such underlying mechanisms causing discriminatory practices towards women leaders to exist which have become naturalized and invisible. Our concern is that everyone irrespective of gender should have a fair chance in career progression. This is both a moral and also an economic challenge. The framework we develop in this paper is an alternative approach to studying women leaders compared to traditional women-in-management literature. It aims at revealing the "natural and taken-for-granted" cultural mechanisms behind discriminatory practices. Our framework is based on a critical discursive approach, which draws on ideas of how women''s leadership becomes symbolically represented and constructed in discursive practices. These symbolic constructions, which are mediated through language, often have an ideological loading which positions women leaders and builds their identities in ways that can help to legitimize unequal relations between the genders. However, our framework emphasizes the possibility of multiple discourses and a dynamic view of culture. The cultural constructions of women leaders are, thus, open to change.
Keywords discrimination  discursive practices  Finland  women
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