In this timely article, Carole Elliott and Valerie Stead investigate how women’s leadership was represented in the printed media during the global financial crisis of 2008 – 2012. They show how textual and visual discourses combine to promote different conceptualizations of what it is to be a leader, and can make a difference in the advancement of women into leadership roles. I encourage you to read this article to learn more about the power of everyday discourse in promoting (or not) women into positions of leadership.
A continuing challenge for organizations is the persistent underrepresentation of women in senior roles, which gained a particular prominence during the global financial crisis (GFC). The GFC has raised questions regarding the forms of leadership that allowed the crisis to happen and alternative proposals regarding how future crises might be avoided. Within this context women’s leadership has been positioned as an ethical alternative to styles of masculinist leadership that led to the crisis in the first place. Through a multimodal discursive analysis this article examines the socio-cultural assumptions sustaining the gendering of leadership in the popular press to critically analyse how women’s leadership is represented during the GFC of 2008–2012. Highlighting the media’s portrayal of women’s leadership as a gendered field of activity where different forms of gender capital come into play, we identify three sets of dialectics: women as leaders and women as feminine, women as credible leaders and women as lacking in credibility, and women as victims and women as their own worst enemies. Together, the dialectics work together to form a discursive pattern framed by a male leadership model that narrates the promise of women leaders, yet the disappointment that they are not men. Our study extends understandings regarding how female and feminine forms of gender capital operate dialectically, where the media employs feminine capital to promote women’s positioning as leaders yet also leverages female capital as a constraint. We propose that this understanding can be of value to organizations to understand the impact and influence of discourse on efforts to promote women into leadership roles.
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When people think of business ethics they normally imagine what businesses can or should do to be judged as ethical. Whether the focus is on breaches of ethical norms by corporations, or models for the achievement of ethical business, the common approach is that it is organizations themselves who are the ethical agents.
This assumption is limited because it fails to account for how corporate responsibility does not necessarily arrive through the voluntary actions of corporations themselves. In response, in my own research I have been exploring a more democratic and socially focussed understanding of how business ethics is practiced. The results were recently published in my article in Organization Studies called ‘Democratic Business Ethics: Volkswagen’s Emissions Scandal and the Disruption of Corporate Sovereignty’
The 2015 Volkswagen emission scandal illustrates what I call democratic business ethics; an ethics where citizens and the institutions of civil society hold corporations to account for their actions, and in so doing disrupt the self-interested abuse of corporate power. At the time the scandal broke, Volkswagen was the world’s largest auto manufacturer, and a company widely heralded for its environmentalism and its corporate social responsibly activities. Despite impeccable ethical credentials, the scandal revealed a corporation whose success had been boosted by sophisticated cheating on fuel emission tests.
The paper shows how Volkswagen was brought to justice for its actions not because of its own proclaimed ethics or moral hubris, but because of the interaction of individuals and institutions from outside of business, in this case NGOs, scientists, law makers, government agencies, the media, and the general public. This was a demonstration how business ethics manifested in the interruption of a flagrant case of corporate fraud, deceit and criminality.
The paper develops the idea of democratic business ethics by focussing on how civil society in particular can and should ensure that corporations are made morally responsible for what they do. This is an ethics made practical through forms of dissent and contestation that redirect power away from centres of organized wealth and capital, returning it to its democratically rightful place with the people.
The conclusion is that business ethics is far too important to be left in the hands of business, and needs to be exercised in the democratic sphere so that corporations are serving society rather than the other way around.
In spite of the fact that lying is an endemic feature of social life, organizational researchers to date have almost ignored the topic. In the Organization Studies article Trusted to Deceive: A Case Study of ‘Strategic Deception’ and the Normalization of Lying at Work, authors Sarah Jenkins and Rick Delbridge investigate how lying can become institutionalized, rationalized and socialized into the structure and culture of an organization. They conducted an in-depth case study of VoiceTel (pseudonym) an organization that provides virtual reception services for businesses; telephone calls are answered by receptionists who conceal their geographic location when speaking with clients. As a result, deception becomes a strategic feature of business models in virtual service work.
Jenkins and Delbridge develop a model to explain how deception can become established and normalized so that employees accept lying as an intrinsic and enjoyable feature of their work, allowing them the opportunity to be creative and inventive. These features help to explain how lying can become embedded, maintained and strengthened over time in organizations, and as a result deception can become positively linked with providing good customer service. Jenkins and Delbridge also provide insights into the broader consideration of how workplace practices are institutionalized – examining how ‘top-down’ and ‘bottom-up’ processes can dynamically support the perpetuation of individual and collective practices. I invite you to read the whole article to find out how employees can learn to take joy from lying for a living.
The abstract for the paper:
Lying is an endemic feature of social life but has remained under-researched in organization studies. This paper examines the case of VoiceTel, a market leader in the high-quality virtual reception business that practised ‘strategic deception’ (Patwardhan et al., 2009). Receptionists concealed that they were not physically located in their clients’ premises and lying was an intrinsic and enduring feature of their work. We adapt and extend Ashforth and Anand’s (2003) ‘normalization of corruption’ framework to develop a new model of the ‘normalization of lying’. We examine how lying becomes institutionalized, rationalized and socialized into the structure and culture of an organization such that it becomes embedded, maintained and strengthened over time as a legitimate and integral part of the job. Our model of normalization integrates organizational and group levels to examine the significance and interaction of ‘bottom-up’ as well as ‘top-down’ processes. Employees gained recognition from their proficiency in deception and drew considerable satisfaction, self-esteem and status as employees who are ‘trusted to deceive’.
There is a wealth of information in studies categorized as Comparative Institutionalism that can provide important insights into current questions about the collective organizing of work. In the latest virtual Perspectives issue of Organization Studies, authors Jasper Hotho and Ayse Saka-Helmhout provide an overview of the literature on comparative institutionalism and show how key themes within this body of research can make important contributions to current debates in organization theory. For example, by paying more attention to the institutional differences across societies, researchers can respond to calls for a more contextualized and holistic understanding of organizations. Because institutional scholars have recently been focused on the organizational field level, they have almost ignored previous studies showing how organizations and society tend to reflect each other structurally. Hotho and Saka-Helmhout explain how established knowledge about the connections between societal institutions and organizations can facilitate new organizational insights.
More specifically, Hotho and Saka-Helmhout identify three themes in the comparative institutionalism literature that can inform our understanding of organizational behavior. Theme 1: Societal differences in modes of organizing have consequences for organizational work practices. Theme 2: Relationships between societal institutions impact economic organization and the market structure within which organizations pursue multiple paths to performance. Theme 3: Different societal institutions hold significant implications for multinational enterprises because they must straddle the variety.
These themes are elaborated on with particular attention to eight previously published articles that have contributed to the development of key ideas and turning points within comparative institutionalism. These articles are available to access for free online in the Comparative Institutionalism Perspectives issue, which you can access here.
Paul R. Carlile, Davide Nicolini, Ann Langley, Haridmos Tsoukas , eds.: How Matter Matters: Objects, Artifacts, and Materiality in Organization Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. 294 pp. $100.00, hardcover.
This volume challenges the reader, and the various chapters challenge one another indirectly. It raises important questions, such as (1) What are the implications of materiality for process theories? (2) If the social and material are always entangled, where is agency? (3) What does entanglement mean, and what are its boundary conditions?, and (4) Do materials have agency or only properties that constrain and enable human action? The volume clearly focuses on knowledge as the key integrating link. There is, however, an important absence in the volume: the extensive work on place, space, and materiality by sociologists such as Gieryn (2000, 2002), Preda (1999), and McDonnell (2010), whose work links directly to knowledge and practice. There is also a tendency for the chapters (except Olsen’s) to emphasize the positives of materiality, while avoiding decay and obstacles of materiality. Finally, as the editors are experts in process theories, I had hoped they would conclude by comparing, debating, and making sense of these diverse and engaging essays, but perhaps other scholars can build on the pieces in this volume to bridge its disciplinary boundaries and create a more unified body of work for organizational researchers.
Many academics find themselves in an increasingly specialized area of research, which has benefits like creating an identity, increasing productivity and a feeling of belonging intellectually. Mats Alvesson and Jörgen Sandberg point out in their paper recently published in Organization Studies entitled “Habitat and Habitus: Boxed-in versus Box-Breaking Research,” that keeping within a particular research ‘box’ is a key mechanism for success within the Management and Organization Studies community. However, they argue for more ‘tolerance for box-breaking’, suggesting that by being skeptical and challenging of the field, by drawing on theories and conventions from other fields, and by deconstructing and negating dominant viewpoints in one’s own and others’ research, box changing, box jumping and box transcendence can lead to more dynamic and critical research.
This paper argues that scholarly work is increasingly situated in narrowly circumscribed areas of study, which are encouraging specialization, incremental adding-to-the-literature contributions and a blinkered mindset. Researchers invest considerable time and energy in these specialized areas in order to maximize their productivity and career prospects. We refer to this way of doing research and structuring careers as boxed-in research. While such research is normally portrayed as a template for good scholarship, it gives rise to significant problems in management and organization studies, as it tends to generate a shortage of novel and influential ideas. We propose box-breaking research as a strategy for how researchers and institutions can move away from the prevalence of boxed-in research and, thus, be able to generate more imaginative and influential research results. We suggest three versions: box changing, box jumping and, more ambitiously, box transcendence.