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FESTA expert report 4.1 gendering decision making and communication processes
O'Hagan, Clare; O'Connor, Pat; Veronesi, Liria; Mich, Ornella; Sağlamer, Gulsun; Tan, Mine G.; Çağlayan, Hülya
Executive Summary: The purpose of this action-research project is to effect structural and cultural change in higher level education and research institutes, and particularly in their decision-making bodies and processes so as to create more transparent and inclusive decision-making processes, which will advance gender equality (FESTA, 2012). The partners in this work package are three higher level education and research institutes in Ireland, Italy and Turkey and case studies were undertaken of these organisations. In Ireland, the partner is a government-funded, independent university, which provides research and teaching from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels. In Italy, the partner is a non-profit, independent organisation, which conducts research in technology, science and humanities. In Turkey the partner is one of the oldest and leading research universities, providing research and teaching from undergraduate to postdoctoral levels. We locate this action-research in the context of theories of gender and power. Gender is both an institution and a social construction, which ascribes particular roles, behaviours, activities, and attributes to men and women. Gender schema theory explains how individuals become gendered in society, and how sex-linked characteristics are maintained, transmitted and differently evaluated. French and Bell (1995) argue that the concept of power is central to understanding organisational life, because people devote much of their energies at work trying to accomplish tasks either for themselves or on behalf of others. Power may be defined as the extent to which individuals are able to pursue, or convince others, to take a certain course of action. The essence of power is therefore control over others behaviour (Morley et al, 2004). The questions driving this research are Who has power?; How is power exercised, presented and understood?; and what are the gendered implications of the exercise of power? This work package is concerned with the meaning of power, its operation and effects and therefore we used qualitative research methods. We also conducted a documentary review in the case study organisations to examine those processes and procedures which lead to career-enhancing decisions for people in such organisations. Qualitative methodology is both processual and reflexive, in the grounded theory tradition. To examine the decision making and communication processes and people s interpretation of them in our institutions, we took a critical realist approach. A purposive sample of people who participate in committees or have decision making power outside the committee structure was used, focusing particularly on decisions which allocate positions, resources and make appointments, as these have potentially career enhancing effects. Overall the sample included twenty-five positional power holders in the institutions, nine women and sixteen men. We analysed the data from semi-structured interviews with them using content analysis. We developed a specific cross-national method which recognised the different contexts and cultures within which we conducted this research. This methodology facilitated an in-depth interrogation of the practices cross-nationally. We found that 69-100 per cent of all mid-to high level positional power structures and positions in all three organisations were held by men. There was an absence of awareness of gender, even while there was rhetorical support for involving more women in decision making. There was evidence of the operation of gender schemas and unconscious bias, with the overwhelming view being that women s attitudes and behaviors were the problem . We found that institutional control is maintained in various ways: through committee decision making, policies and procedures as well as through retaining power at the highest level in each organisation. Some committees were exercises in approving already taken decisions. This system of apparent democracy maintains central control, but may limit the ability of individuals at faculty and department level to participate effectively. Ostensibly objective procedures for creating decision making committees has the potential to conceal gender schemas because those who participate on committees are unaware of their own gender blindness. Respondent s accounts suggest that decision making by consensus is the norm across the three institutions. On closer examination, this is not real consensus, but a decision to agree with the power holder (the Chair) because of ties of loyalty; a recognition that disagreement is futile because many decisions are pre-cooked ; or rhetorical compliance to avoid endless meetings and discussions. In the three institutions, the role of the Chair on committees was considered significant, both in directing the outcome of the decision and in reaching what was presented as consensus. Thus, in the Irish and Italian organisations, the chair of a committee is influential, parti...
Keyword(s): higher level education; gender equality
Publication Date:
Type: Report
Peer-Reviewed: Yes
Language(s): English
Institution: University of Limerick
Citation(s): info:eu-repo/grantAgreement/EC/FP7/287526
Publisher(s): EU
First Indexed: 2015-02-19 05:41:20 Last Updated: 2019-12-11 06:34:50