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Women who manage: women's experience as managers in contemporary Australian organisations : implications for the discourse of management and organisation(s)

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posted on 2022-03-28, 01:21 authored by Anne Ross-Smith
This thesis investigates the managerial experience of senior women in contemporary Australian public and private sector organisations and explores the implications this investigation has in relation to the discourse of management and organisation(s). -- The thesis proposes that although women have gained a presence in the ranks of senior management in the last twenty years, they continue to remain marginal to the discourse of management and organisation(s). The reason for this, it is argued, is because of the preoccupation this discourse has with conceptions of rationality and masculinity. This proposition is elaborated in the thesis by tracing the philosophical and sociological interpretations of reason and rationality from ancient Greek philosophy to its embodiment in the contemporary discourse of management and organisation(s). -- Whether for biological, social or psychological reasons, it can be argued that men and women are 'different'. A further proposition, therefore, is that they will have a 'different' experience as managers. On the basis of this proposal, the thesis evaluates contemporary theories of gender and sexual difference, but stops short of defining 'difference' specifically with regard to women's experience as managers. Instead, it allows the empirical research to determine what it is that constitutes 'difference' in such a context. -- The empirical component of the thesis seeks to develop an understanding of how senior women managers in contemporary Australian organisations both experience and interpret their experience in management. This is achieved by the use of two different, but complementary studies. Using an ethnographic/participant observation case study approach, the first of these investigates the day to day managerial activities, over time, of two senior women managers, one from the private and one from the public sector. The second component of the empirical research involves as series of in depth interviews with forty senior women managers in Australian public and private sector organisations, together with a small number of interviews with their immediate superiors and subordinates, and observation, by the researcher, of their workplaces. The location of the empirical research in the late 20th century, some twenty years or so after women started to enter the ranks of management in Australia, allows for a reflection on women's progress in management in this country during this period. It also allows for contemporary social and organisational conditions in Australia to be a consideration in evaluating the research participant's managerial experience. The thesis, therefore, links the empirical research findings to Australian literature and research on women and management, current social trends in this country, characteristics of the Australian business culture, Australian managementand the Australian manager. The research framework utilised in the thesis is informed by critical, feminist and postmodern approaches to organisational analysis. For this reason the Deetz (1994) schema, which defines organisational reserch from the perspective of four differing discursive spaces - dialog, critical, interpretive and normative is utilised to locate the research orientation of the empirical studies. This schema recognises that overlap between the four discursive spaces is possible and thus can accommodate insights from each of the above mentioned approaches, as well as areas of overlap between them. -- The principal research findings suggest, in summary, that women in senior management in Australia largely conform to the traditional (masculine) norms that are deeply embedded in the discourse of management and organisation(s) and in managerial practice, yet at the same time, they consider themselves to be 'different'. A feminist interpretation of Social Contract theory, together with a feminist analysis of Foucault's (1988) notion of an 'ethics' of the self and the link between this notion and non essentialist feminist theory are used in the discussion of the empirical research findings to construct an interpretation of 'difference' as it applies to women's managerial experience. -- The contribution to knowledge in the field of organisational analysis that the thesis seeks to make includes: adding new grounded empirical research whcih uses alternative approaches to organisational understanding; providing a comprehensive analysis of the philosophical and sociological underpinnings of the relationship between management, rationality and masculinity; providing a platform for future policy development and organisational practice, and adding a perspective on contemporary managerial practice and organisation conditions against which to gauge classical studies of managerial work and behaviour. -- Finally, the thesis can also be seen to provide additional insights into recent critiques of essentialist feminsit theory and the 'feminisation of management'/female advantage literature.


Alternative Title

Women's experience as managers in contemporary Australian organisations: implications for the discourse of management and organisation(s)

Table of Contents

Introduction and thesis overview -- A clarification of how common terms and key concepts within managerial and organisational discourse are interpreted within the thesis -- Theoretical and philosophical concerns: gender and the discourse of management and organisation(s) -- Contextualising the research: an overview of social, political, economic/business organisational conditions in contemporary Australia and review of literature germane to the empirical research studies -- Research methodology, judgement criteria and framework for analysis and representation -- Women managers: day to day managerial work and behaviour: ethnographic/participant observation studies -- Women's perceptions of their experience as managers: the interview studies -- Conclusions and thesis summary.


Bibliography: leaves 353-372

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


Thesis (PhD), Macquarie University, Graduate School of Management

Department, Centre or School

Macquarie Graduate School of Management

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Elizabeth More


Copyright disclaimer: Copyright Anne Ross-Smith 1999. This thesis was digitised for the purposes of Document Delivery. Macquarie University ResearchOnline attempted to locate the author but where this has not been possible; we are making available, open access, selected parts of the thesis which may be used for the purposes of private research and study. If you have any enquiries or issues regarding this work being made available please contact Macquarie University ResearchOnline - If you wish to access the complete thesis, on receipt of a Document Supply Request, placed with Macquarie University Library by another library, we will consider supplying a copy of this thesis. For more information on Document Supply, please contact






x, 376, [9] leaves

Former Identifiers

mq:3624 1287414