Academic journal article Public Administration Review

He Says, She Says: Gender and Worklife

Academic journal article Public Administration Review

He Says, She Says: Gender and Worklife

Article excerpt


Many studies have shown that women often encounter glass ceilings when they try to make their way up the organizational promotion ladder. They often feel excluded from power, sidetracked, and socially isolated. The literature has suggested that men are reluctant to give up power; they are uncomfortable dealing with women, whom they believe are different from themselves and are, therefore, unreliable or unpredictable. This article explores some of these themes through conversations with men and women about how gender affects their workplace. Some of the themes from the literature were confirmed in these conversations, others were modified or expanded, and new ones emerged. The result is a better understanding of how gender affects work life, and suggestions for creating a more equal, and calmer, workforce.

I propose a communication model that is useful for diagnostics and intervention in organizations that want to improve workplace relations for current and potential future employees. The study described here is the result of the exploratory field study of this model, the Conversation Project. This ongoing project is aimed at understanding the perceptions and perspectives of male and female managers and administrators(1) and how those perceptions of gender affect the workplace. Male and female public administration professionals were asked to talk about how gender affects their work relationships; what they think about gender relations in organizations, as they relate to the work they do; and what issues they consider most important. The Conversation Project is unique because it incorporates men's perspectives, insights, and understandings alongside those of women in a group conversation about the different or shared realities of their work-life relationships.

Examining different points of view on this issue elucidates how professionals perceive gender as shaping work relations and experiences; in addition, it illuminates how these experiences influence behavior that maintains unequal employment opportunities.

My assumption is that gaining insight into how professionals perceive gender relations in the workplace can help us to more fully understand what is involved in changing the current reality in organizations and can improve efforts to end systemic gender-based discrimination. Not only will such improvements help women achieve equality, they will also help men feel to more comfortable working with women. The knowledge generated by this project will be useful to administrators and managers who want to understand the factors that impede women's advancement; to researchers working to identify the factors that perpetuate gender inequality in organizations; and to decision makers who want to initiate a process for constructive change.

Research Framework and Methodology

This study explored how professional men and women in public-sector workplaces perceive the relationship between gender and their `lived' work experiences. The study was built on a focus-group design with in-depth, follow-up telephone interviews. The data are based on two focus group discussions and interviews with public administration professionals, both conducted in 1995. The participants included 23 men and women aged 36-56.(2) The 12 participants in the first group were public administration faculty from public universities in six states; the 11 participants in the second group were midlevel practitioners and top-level administrators from public-sector organizations and government agencies in eight states.(3) Practitioners and academicians were separated to gather data from individuals who contribute to current thinking and practice in two different areas within the public administration profession--those practicing "in the field" and those instructing current and future professionals. While public administration programs in public universities and government organizations differ from public workplace arenas, both are heavily male-dominated and are assumed to be typical of workplaces in terms of gender relations, prejudice, and stereotypes. …

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