Becoming Leaders : An Investigation Into Women's Leadership In Male-Defined And Male-Dominated Professions

Clare, Jillian (2004) Becoming Leaders : An Investigation Into Women's Leadership In Male-Defined And Male-Dominated Professions. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This thesis examines how women perform as leaders within male-dominated professions, including law, business, politics, the military, and the academy. In studying women's performances in terms of the corporeal and spectacular, the investigation seeks to understand how particular women enact leadership through their materiality within specific times and places. Drawing on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari's (1988) theorising of the processes of 'becoming', woman-as-leader is studied as an entity that passes from one incomplete and multiple assemblage to another, rather than as a singular 'developing' identity.

The research is located within and between the paradoxes that complicate the performances of leadership for women. One key paradox serving as a rationale for this investigation is that, while 'equity' has become a truism of contemporary leadership, it is clear from formal reports (for example, the 2002 Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA) report), that many women continue to be marginalised and under-represented as leaders and senior managers. Moreover, those few women who have achieved success often acknowledge themselves as both legitimately and differently - and sometimes awkwardly, located as leaders in the everyday enactments of their work.

The investigation of leadership within and between such paradoxes is problematic for a neo-liberal order of thinking, and even for socially critical theory, because of the assumptions that modernist literature makes about women's struggle for political legitimacy (ie, a narrative of progress, emancipation, and/or linear cumulative historical development). It is for this reason that the conceptual tools used in this study are drawn from post-feminist and post-structuralist theory. Such theorising refuses literal categories in favour of 'ironic categories' (Rorty, 1989) where two apparently oppositional ideas are understood to be both necessary and true.

To explore women 'becoming' leaders (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988), 'woman-as-leader' is interrogated using Jean François Lyotard's (1984) notion of 'performativity,' Mary Russo's (1994) theorising of the embodied spectacle of 'the female grotesque', and Richard Rorty (1989) and Donna Haraway's (1991) insistence on partiality, doubt, and the importance of 'undoing' the fixity of modernist categories - in this instance, for women. One ironic category of importance to the study is Haraway's theorising of a 'cyborgian identity', a technological assemblage that is part-human/part-machine. This allows acknowledgement that women leaders inhabit realms beyond the boundaries imposed by the same/difference, human/machine, present/past, and real/virtue binaries.

Using these tools, the performances of a number of women leaders is examined in an empirical study that focuses on a few individual women located in male-defined and male dominated settings. The empirical work has two key components. First, it provides a reading of three moments in time where a female individual dys-appears (Leder, 1990) in the public gaze, erupting as a unique spectacle in spaces that are both enabling and constraining. It foregrounds the unique complexities of three public performances in which women made a spectacle of themselves, while the analysis refuses to either celebrate the individuals involved, or to bemoan the conditions under which they did so. The analysis demonstrates the value of re-thinking leadership in terms of its complexity for the female as embodied public 'performer'.

It then moves on to focus specifically on the (embodied, spectacular) tactics being deployed by women leaders in contemporary professional work. This analysis is located in the professions of law, business, politics, the military, and the academy. The data-as-evidence emerging from the analysis show women leaders to be both and neither enacting and troubling 'proper' (ie, traditional and/or known) leadership conventions. The analysis provides a reading of how, through certain tactical shifts, women work to 'de-territorialise' both the 'forms of content' and 'forms of expression' (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988) constituting leadership performances.

It makes visible the tactical assemblages these women deploy, and the ways in which such tactics separate, combine, and compound the same/difference, equality/inequality, either/or binaries. The specific tactical manoeuvres for achieving legitimacy in the public gaze cluster around four identifiable ironic categories: (i) legitimate cross-dressing (ii) assertive defence (iii) proper blasphemy, and (iv) humanly-machinic.

When taken together, the two components of the empirical study compel a re-theorising of 'woman-as-leader' as both insider and outsider, an entity engaging in the on-going work of diss-assembling and re-assembling a leaderly self. Woman is shown 'to be not one, not multiple, but multiplicities', simultaneously (Deleuze & Guattari, 1988). This re-theorising provides a more nuanced account of women leaders working to maintain legitimacy, credibility, and propriety as leaders than mainstream theorising of leadership and management currently allows.

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ID Code: 15947
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: McWilliam, Erica & Meadmore, Daphne
Keywords: Assemblages, Assembling, Re-Assembling, Becoming, Becoming-Woman Leader, Corporeality, Cyborgian Hybridity, Dys-Appearance, Female Grotesque, Identity-Formation, Ironic Category, Leadership, Performativity, Propriety and Legitimacy, Spectacle, Woman-As-Leader
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Department: Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Copyright Owner: Copyright Jillian Clare
Deposited On: 03 Dec 2008 03:53
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 19:41

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