This study examines middle managers' career opportunities in public administration and identifies factors that encourage women to remain in management positions. It is argued that concepts such as 'habitus', 'gender' and 'positioning' are useful in considering the situation of women and men in the public sector. This analysis identifies a power structure within the social welfare service in Sweden that results in the prioritisation of a certain type of competence. The research shows that women and men have different strategies when they apply for higher level appointments and that women keep their children at the centre of their concerns, even when they follow traditional career paths. Despite women outnumbering men in this sector, it is contended that public administration is structured according to a traditional model that benefits men.
The Swedish labour market is strongly gender segregated both in terms of vocational sectors and in terms of the levels at which women are appointed in the public and private sectors. For example, in local authorities, women account for 79 per cent of all health and social care employees. The greatest gender divide is in the field of nursing and care, in which women dominate, and in technical fields such as engineering, in which men outnumber women (SCB 1993). Women make up 66 per cent of the workforce in the public sector (Dahlström 1962; Wikander 1992) but men are more frequently found in senior positions (SCB 1993).
This study analyses female-dominated vocational fields - using the home help service as an example - and seeks to illuminate women's (and a few men's) 'positioning'. The concept of positioning used in this chapter draws on the work of Linda Alcoff (1988), who sought to develop a Foucauldian approach to subjectivity, which incorporated a measure of agency in the reflexive (re)construction of gender. Here, subjectivity is conceptualised not simply through particular sets of attributes but also through particular positions with the context helping to determine a person's position relative to others 'just as the position of a pawn on a chessboard is considered safe or dangerous, powerful or weak, according to its relation to other chess pieces' (Alcoff 1988:433).