On Thursday 21st of June, The Gender in Management Special Interest Group (GiMSIG) and the Human Resource Management Special Interest Group (HRMSIG), jointly organised the workshop “Gender and HRM: Advances, Challenges and Future Directions”, hosted by Alliance Manchester Business School at The University of Manchester.
The purpose of this workshop was to explore the idea of the “gendering of HRM”, reflecting on the past, present and future of the relationship between gender and HRM by focusing on advances, challenges and future directions. Drawing on discussions about gender in organizations that continue to highlight how gender and gendered power relations shape and pervade dominant management practices, the event reflected on how HRM policies and practices are both gendered, and (re)produce and perpetuate gendered dynamics and processes in organizations.
The workshop was well-attended and consisted of 2 keynote presentations and 4 paper presentations organised in a morning and afternoon presentations, as well as 2 poster displays. The event kicked off with a keynote talk by Professor Jill Rubery (Alliance Manchester Business School and Work & Equalities Institute), who discussed the multiple functions of wages and how they relate to the gender pay gap and reward systems in the workplace. In discussing wage as price, wage as living, wage as outcome of capital-labour relations, wage as social practice and wage as a management tool, Professor Rubery argued that failure to understand these multiple functions, alongside failure of collective regulation, has led to different challenges for gender pay equality for different groups of women. Her talk highlighted several key issues that result in the gender pay gap continuing despite actions taken to address it: the invisibility of women’s skills, the way women’s work is treated as homogenous –not differentiated by skills and responsibilities, as well as the adoption of technical solutions (e.g. the focus on job evaluation) to what is in effect a political problem. Some of the ways in which these issues could be addressed include: campaigns/policies that target clients, not just employers, in order to move on from the argument that low wages are necessary in order to fulfil clients’ needs; higher pay in order to change the social practice of paying low wages so people can buy cheaper goods/services. Finally, drawing on arguments about comparable worth, she posed the view that there is need for a policy for all, not just for women.
The first paper session started with Maranda Ridgway and Louise Oldridge (Nottingham Trent University), who presented their paper: ‘Leading’ by example? Gendered wording in HR job advertisements. In a very though-provoking presentation, they showed the ways in which gendered language is mobilised in job ads. Their analysis draws on the use of Kat Matfield’s Gender Decoder (http://gender-decoder.katmatfield.com/). Their preliminary findings suggest much analytical scope for further exploration of the relationship between gender and language in jobs adverts, in particular how language may reproduce gendered and stereotypical views about roles and occupations, especially in particular sectors. The second presentation was by Diane McGiffen (Cranfield University). In her talk titled “Nevertheless he persisted – the idealised male worker, older women and the challenge to HRM”, Diane discussed how the construct of idealised male worker plays out in the care sector, drawing on a review of 116 articles. Her findings show little evidence of HRM supporting a gender sensitive approach to the retention of care workers.
Throughout the event, we got the opportunity to talk to Isbahna Naz (University of Birmingham) and Diane McGiffen (Cranfield University) about their posters. Isbahna’s poster, titled “Obstacles and discrimination towards women in leadership roles in Bangladeshi financial institutions”, was based on her doctoral project, which explores the reasons for the under-representation of women in the banking sector in Bangladesh. Using a postmodern approach, the project focuses on gender and its positioning within the social identity of patriarchy in order to understand the male dominance in this sector. Diane’s poster, titled “Don’t leave me this way: Retaining older women care workers in Scotland”, was based on her doctoral research, which looks to explore why older women leave health and care work and what organisations and managers can do to retain them. One of her key findings suggest, among other things, that there is disconnect between women’s lives and the pace of policy change. Her work calls for more understanding of the intersection of gender, age and class in discussions about HRM and career, and also for the health and social care sector to pay attention to the implications of gender and age on the workforce.
The afternoon session started with a keynote talk by Professor Jo Duberley (Birmingham Business School), who delivered a talk on “The menopause taboo and work: The impact of menopause on the working lives of women in the police force”. Professor Duberley’s talk highlighted the challenges faced by women in navigating changes and perceptions associated with the menopause. These changes and perceptions go beyond balancing life and work and relate to the complexity of discussing, addressing and normalizing women’s embodied lives in the workplace. The focus on the police force added a particular flavour or complexity as institutionally, the police remains structured and organised around masculinised ideas about work and workers. Against this backdrop, there was a very stimulating reflection about the challenges faced by women as they age in the workplace, and the perceptions both women and men have about the ageing process, its dynamics, and its relationship with productive work. The talk highlighted the importance of exploring how gender, age and the lifecourse intersect to shape the working lives of women.
The second paper session started off with Michelle Tessaro (Cranfield University), who presented her paper “The Impact of the Gender Composition of Boards on the Gender Composition of Senior Management Positions”. The presentation gave an interesting overview of how the presence and role of women in boards has improved over time and posed an important “so what?” question: what impact can the critical mass of women in the boardroom have on the gender balance in senior management roles? In posing this question, the research centres the role of women on boards in supporting cultures of progression and inclusivity for other women, presenting women on boards as potential agents of change to address issues like segregation, representation and the gender pay gap. The last paper of the session was Etlyn Kenny (University of Birmingham), who was presenting a paper co-authored with Rory Donnelly (University of Liverpool), titled “Gender balancing tech work through HRM”. A fire alarm at the end of Michelle’s presentation put an untimely end to the workshop as we had to evacuate the building. As such, we were unable to both discuss Michelle’s presentation and listen to Etlyn’s presesntation. After a good 30 minutes outside and based on people’s travel arrangements, we decided to call it a day. Despite this unexpected circumstance, it was an enjoyable day, filled with excellent presentations, discussions and contributions. We agreed, we should definitely meet again to continue our conversations!
Jenny K Rodriguez
24 June 2019