Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Obeying Organizational 'Rules of Relevance': Gender Analysis of Policy

Academic journal article Journal of Management and Organization

Obeying Organizational 'Rules of Relevance': Gender Analysis of Policy

Article excerpt


There is considerable research showing that gender is deemed irrelevant to organizations and to policy. This paper examines the results of a research project that sought to reverse those 'rules of relevance'. The project required policy actors in several public sector organizations to undertake a gender analysis of their policies. We found that it was through the collaborative work of doing the gender analysis that policy actors came to see why such an analysis was needed. This necessarily meant seeing the relevance of gender to the policies they dealt with, which could also highlight gender bias in their organizations. Yet, a bureaucratic and gendered division of labour ensured that those who got to do the gender analysis were those in relatively powerless positions, predominantly women. We draw on the 'turn to practice' in organizational studies and feminist strategies of 'sudden seeing' to consider what our results might offer future projects of gender analysis and organizational intervention.

Keywords: Gender mainstreaming, Public sector organizations, Gender relevance, Sudden seeing, Gender analysis of policy, Gender lens, Gender blindness

A three-decade dialogue between feminist theory and organizational theory has done little to encourage people who work in organizations to be able to see, much less highlight, the intricate organizational practices that 'do' gender (West and Zimmerman, 1987) as a path to inequality. Consequently, gender, in all its diversity, 'gets disappeared' as a key organizational concern (Fletcher, 1999). In other words, gender obeys the 'rules of relevance' (Patai, 1983) that situate it below the horizon of central organizational matters.

The shift towards 'diversity' has prompted a further rationale for dismissing gender as an appropriate organizational topic. Well-deserved critiques of gender theory by women of colour (Davis, 1981; Spelman, 1988) played a part. Particularly influential at the level of organizational human resource management is the argument that diversity should replace gender as the focus of attention in workplaces and government policy alike (Hankivsky, 2005; Squires, 2005). However, as other research has shown, managing diversity practices not only prioritise business interests over employee equity but also individualize the problems of group disadvantage, while resting on the insecure ground of voluntary business-casedriven initiatives (Bacchi, 1999; Eveline and Todd, 2002). Recent publications by Bacchi and Eveline (2009) and Eveline, Bacchi and Binns (2009) have used material from the Australian research project we outline below to examine the contested terrain of diversity vs gender in equity mainstreaming policy. Those papers outline the history of that debate in Australia and elsewhere, and its relationship to the arguments about 'intersectionality' (Crenshaw, 1991). They argue that policy practitioners and researchers need to treat context, particularly regarding identity politics, as of major concern when either 'diversity' or 'gender' is to be privileged. Although space precludes us covering that history and argument in this paper, it underpins our thinking about gender and organizations.

This paper analyses an attempt to counter the trend to see gender as irrelevant to organizational practices. The research employed a collaborative approach, between university researchers and several public sector organizations in two Australian states, designed to 'mainstream gender' in public policy.

First highlighted at the 1995 Beijing Decade for Women Conference, gender mainstreaming is used currently in a wide range of countries by policy developers and analysts. The aim is to undo the skewing of policy outcomes that occurs when a gender analysis is lacking (Eveline and Bacchi, 2005). The idea of 'mainstreaming' gender analysis of policy is that the analysis is necessary for each and every policy to be successful. Unlike equal opportunity with its relatively finite goals, gender mainstreaming cannot be treated as a one-off exercise, but must continue as an aspect of all policy (Verloo, 2001). …

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