Gender and organisational culture: relationships between marginality and women’s career success

Palermo, Josephine Giuseppina (2005) Gender and organisational culture: relationships between marginality and women’s career success. PhD thesis, Victoria University.


Feminist and management literature (Kanter, 1977; Burton, 1991; Hede 2000) has chronicled the deep stirrings felt by women excluded from choices and marginalised from power in many organisations. This thesis aimed to investigate the experiences of marginality for women who work in organisations and to explore the associations between marginality and career success, and between marginality and quality of work variables such as stress and role conflict. The research used a model that encompasses a version of fit, whereby stress is viewed as a mis-fit between an individual’s personal values and the ‘environmental’ supplies available to fulfil those values (Edwards, 1996; Code & Langan-Fox, 2001). This is a shift away from models that focus on appraisals of demand versus capacity (such as Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Tenets of marginality theory (Park, 1928) and gender schema theory (Bem, 1981) were key points of reference. These theories support the proposition that individuals who experience greater congruence between their own gender identity and that of the organisational culture will experience less occupational stress and higher quality work outcomes (including career success). Marginality was operationalised as the degree of incongruence between individuals’ self ratings of gender related characteristics and values, and ratings of gender related characteristics and values of the organisational culture. Marginality was conceptualised as both shaped and constructed by the individual–cultural relationship, positioned within a wider social, political and ideological context. The thesis used two studies to explore first the nature of marginality, and then its hypothesised antecedents, effects and their mediators. Three Australian private sector organisations participated in a qualitative study in Study 1 (EducOrg, MetalOrg, and ComputerOrg) and two private sector organisations participated in a quantitative study in Study 2 (ComputerOrg and InsurOrg). Study 1 involved conducting interviews with senior managers across organisations (metal, computing, and education service industries) and Study 2 involved a survey completed by a total 150 participants drawn from both the computing organisation, and from a newly recruited organisation from the insurance sector. Interviews were semi-structured around topics related to gender and career development. The survey in Study 2, the design of which was informed by findings from Study 1, comprised gender and values scales, as well as quality of work indices such as stress and job satisfaction measures. The results in Study 1 appeared to confirm the existence of gendered phenomena in the three organisations studied. Gender polarisation processes appeared to perpetuate exemplars of the ‘good’ manager as masculine, positioning women as deviant within the organisational culture. For women to deviate from the dominant management style involves risk, and many women found themselves with less freedom than expected to move at the ‘contact zone’ between masculine and feminine behavioural modalities. Study 2 provided an opportunity to test the hypothesis that psychological resources and marginality, would significantly mediate stress. As hypothesised, women experienced greater degrees of marginality than men. However, marginality was experienced differently in each of the organisations studied. Findings in both organisations participating in Study 2 suggested the factor that distinguished the organisations on levels of marginality appeared to be perceptions of the existence or non-existence of nurturing values and practices in the organisation. It was hypothesised that perceptions of psychological resources (self-efficacy, locus of control, self esteem) and social support resources (network position, and availability of mentors) would be predictors of marginality and occupational stress. Findings supported this in part. Four of the psychological resource variables significantly mediated the effects of marginality. They were positive and negative affect, self-esteem and mentoring experiences. As expected, psychological and social support variables were also significant predictors of occupational stress factors, though their impact differed according to the particular stress factor. Overall the findings provided some evidence to support the framework of gender marginality developed in this thesis: that marginality, mediated by psychosocial resources, will have adverse effects on perceptions of career success and occupational stress. It was concluded that further research to address the limitations and implications of this thesis, in order to consolidate understandings of the gender differences on career success for women, is worthy of consideration.

Item type Thesis (PhD thesis)
Subjects Historical > RFCD Classification > 380000 Behavioural and Cognitive Sciences
Historical > Faculty/School/Research Centre/Department > School of Social Sciences and Psychology
Keywords gender, organisational culture, occupational stress, career success, women in management
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