Gender and the Public Sector: Professionals and Managerial Change

By Jim Barry; Mike Dent et al. | Go to book overview
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The problematic professional

Gender and the transgression of 'professional' identity

Deborah Kerfoot


Much of the research that has taken place under the heading of gender at work over the last decades has been concerned to locate women's experience in the context of the paid labour market and to advance our theorising of women's continued differential status in terms of pay and employment opportunities. Many contemporary studies of women in the professions and 'professional women' have likewise focused on 'moving up' the corporate ladder or in 'professional' arenas as evidence of their continued progress in the enclaves of organisational life, both in public and private sectors alike. Coupled with interest in the transition of public sector organisations towards modernisation, marketisation and managerialism (see, for example Pollitt 1990; Hood 1995; Clarke and Newman 1997), several academic commentators have begun to explore further the contours and (re)configurations of gender in contemporary organisational sites (Gherardi 1995; Ledwith and Colgan 1996; Collinson and Hearn 1996; Whitehead and Moodley 1999).

Following insights on subjectivity and identity drawn primarily from post-structuralist analysis, this chapter seeks to develop the continued interrogation of gender in managerial work, drawing on vignettes from research interviews on management and managerial practices in two public sector organisational settings. In seeking to problematise managerial work, the chapter examines the links between managerial work and professional identity, and the way in which the practices of organisations serve to reproduce and reinforce predominant conceptions of what 'counts' as professional work. In the context of management and managerial work, this has come to be bound up with an idea(l) of purposive-rational and largely instrumental behaviours towards self and others. Disguised as a mechanism for displacing the self when organisational concerns so dictate, the concept of the manager as professional is at once a paradox: for managerial identity is dependent continuously on 'success' in controlling, quantifying and examining others both as professional practice and in pursuit of a sense of 'professional' identity. The chapter discusses gender in relation to the professional ideal, and elaborates the discussion of 'the professional' with reference to masculinity and management practice.


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