Resisting Gender-Bias: Insights from Western Australian Middle-Level Women Nurses

Article excerpt


An integrated feminist postmodernist ethnography was applied to explore the experiences of eight women nurses working in the corporate sector and/or management in public hospitals in Western Australia. Data were collected through participant observation, the researcher's fi eld notes and journal and through semi-structured critical conversations. Data were analysed by the application of a trifocal analytic method (Glass & Davis, 2004; Savage, 2000b). This approach, consistent with the methodology, examined the data at multiple levels by applying realist, feminist and feminist postmodern lens which allowed the data to remain relevant to each participant, avoided objectifying the participants and uncovered knowledge relevant to the nursing profession. The fi ndings revealed what it meant to be a nurse functioning within a corporate setting. Three culturally-constructed discourses emerged: values attributed to nursing, bureaucratic managerialism and medical science. The fi rst was found to be empowering but the other two revealed evidence of patriarchal and oppressive behaviours by both medical staff and senior nurses. The fi ndings also revealed that the nurses were sometimes unaware of the oppression they were subject to. The nurses avoided confronting their oppressors preferring strategies revealed as creep up/creep in.

Discussion focuses upon the implications of the research project fi ndings for senior and executive nurse leaders and managers and which may evoke a sense of commonality for women in general. The implications are that nurses could apply self-managing strategies in order to resist gendered oppression in senior-level workplace relationships. The authors recommend that more research and publications are needed that reveal and celebrate women's every-day exemplar empowering leadership practices.

Keywords: nursing; feminism; postmodernism; ethnography; corporate; management


This paper is based on a recent social science research project that aimed to examine gender- bias as experienced by women nurses who practiced as nurse unit managers and/or clinical nurse specialists in two Western Australia (WA) public hospitals. These nurses, defi ned here as middle-level women nurses (MLWN), had combined responsibilities to achieve their hospital's managerial fi scal agenda with their nursing care professional values. Scant literature was available that explored the experiences of nurses who practised in these kinds of roles. At the time of undertaking the research project the international sociopolitical context for nurses in senior health system organisations, not dissimilar for women generally in western society, was one of gender inequality (see for example, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), 2004; Byers, 2001; Department of Community Development, Government of WA, 2004; Furst & Reeves, 2008; Glass, 2000). For nursing, the change in governance focus, from medical dominance to managerialist fi scal control in the health services in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and other Western economies (Powell, Brock, & Hinings, 1999) further marginalised nurses (Glouberman & Mintzberg, 2001; Wigens, 1997). This shift revealed that care, which forms a central value in nursing, continued to be absent in the health economics equation (Turkel, 2001).

The paper begins by explaining the impetus for the research, the research question and objectives for the ethnographic approach used in the study. The next section outlines the gap in knowledge within which the project was positioned. This is followed by an introduction to ethnography, informed by feminist postmodern perspectives, and the selection of the participants. The subsequent presentation of the fi ndings and their implications are then discussed. The authors' concluding remarks contend that the application of the research methodology and methods have the potential to contribute to the body of professional nursing knowledge that not only reveals the oppression of women nurses but also the optimistic emancipatory practices by nurses and other women. …


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