Article i 'Tidsskrift for arbejdsliv' no. 4 2003, page 21-40.
Helle Bach og Peter Sidelmann
This article explores why women are relatively poorly represented at the executive level within the Danish ministries. By means of a questionnaire distributed among 800 academic employees within 15 ministries and 26 interviews carried out in four different ministries, we examine the explanatory power of various theoretical contributions within the field of gender research, which all point to different dynamics causing gender related barriers concerning men's and women's dissimilar career developments.
The findings of our study point especially challenge the validity of the structural explanations commonly associated with Kanter (1977) and show no evidence that men’s and women’s respective career developments should be caused by either the departments' gender ratio or by a dissimilar placement in the departments' opportunity structure. Moreover, our data suggest that it is a ‘myth’ that the ministries’ female employees should be more uncertain of whether they can manage an executive position or should be less focused on their working life and career development as compared to the men.
Our findings rather indicate that it is the working conditions facilitating promotion that boost the demand for men and reduce the supply of women.
With respect to the demand for leaders, the informal expectations of work performance inherent in the departments’ organisational culture seem to play an important role. Because of the attention one receives from executive level, showing flexibility in order to address pressing political issues at short notice constitutes considerable career boosting. Due to the division of labour at home, however, men often have an advantage meeting these requirements, making them more visible in the organisations than women. On the supply side, women are not to the same extent willing to give a lower priority to the needs of their children, just as they - due to the domestic division of labour - do not have the opportunity to stay as many hours at the workplace or show the same degree of flexibility regarding unplanned tasks.