EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Management, labour and social gender relations

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An overview on gender in a management and work content in a book published to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Portugal’s Equality Law questions the existence of a specific female leadership style and provides evidence of a tendency for a more and more genderless leadership style. It is concluded that conciliation between work and family life is more difficult for women to achieve than men and represents a significant constraint to women’s professional development.

The book, The equality of women and men in labour and employment in Portugal: policies and circumstances (in Portuguese, 1.24Mb PDF), was published in 2010 to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Equality Law and the establishment of the Commission for Equality in Labour and Employment (CITE).

The chapter by Gina Gaio Santos entitled ‘Management, labour and social gender relations’ provides an overview on gender in a management and work context, with particular emphasis on organisational theory and the career development of women. Two aspects of the topic are reviewed below:

  • the existence (or absence) of female leadership style in organisations;
  • the relationship between work and personal/family life.

Particular attention is given to the outcomes of empirical studies in Portugal, many conducted by researchers from the School of Economics and Management at the University of Minho.

Findings

Is there a female leadership style?

According to a qualitative survey conducted by Teresa Carvalho (1998) with human resource managers, the leadership styles of men and women do not differ much in practice. For example, communication as a means of promoting the involvement of workers was seen as not an exclusive practice of female managers. Nevertheless, in terms of dialogue, women seem to value interpersonal relationships more. There is also a discrepancy between such dialogue, which emphasises the importance of feminine values, and practice, which tends to be characterised by more masculine behaviour and a constant search by women to achieve a balance between being ‘feminine enough’ and ‘masculine enough’. Most of the respondents to the survey were convinced that features of both female and male characters are useful in terms of human resource management, possibly indicating a tendency for a more and more androgynous leadership style.

Relationship between work and personal/family life

Several recent Portuguese studies have examined family-friendly policies, which are usually seen as a means to facilitate work-life balance. However, Íris Barbosa (2009) questions in her PhD thesis whether company initiatives may in fact be a subtle attempt to control the behaviour of their workers at home and in their social life. Carlos Cabral-Cardoso (2003) had previously stated that the separation between work and family life is the most supported option among Portuguese human resources managers. In his study, nearly half of the respondents (46.8%) agreed that the company should not interfere in the relationship between work and family. The study also found that only a small number of companies had formal conciliation policies and that, in the absence of formal policies, companies tend to adopt informal solutions that are decided on an individual basis.

Although most families in Portugal are ‘dual career’ ones, the growing participation of women in the labour market has not been followed by an equal participation of men in unpaid work. A study by Heloísa Perista (2002) found that, on average, women spent about 18% of their weekly total time on domestic work while men spent only 2.5% on that type of activities. A significant proportion of men in the sample (54.4%) claimed not to perform any domestic tasks.

The reconciliation between work and family life appears more difficult to achieve for women than for men. Some qualitative studies on the situation in Portugal (Pinto, 2003; Santos, 2007; Santos and Cabral-Cardoso, 2008) report the existence of a considerable level of conflict between work and family, which is higher among women than men, especially when they have school-age children.

In short, personal and family life remains a significant constraint to women’s professional development. Even when women choose not to have children or when they receive full support of their husband/partner to pursue their career, employers continue to believe in gender stereotypes that invariably assume a greater orientation of women to family and of men to work, which in turn influences their decisions and choices and creates gender inequalities.

Commentary

In her chapter, Gina Gaio Santos argues that genuine and complete gender equality will require a profound change in two main areas:

  • the competitive and individualistic values currently embedded in the culture of most organisations;
  • the way of thinking about the relationship between work and personal/family life.

The changes necessary to contradict the logics of actions that prevent equality must, according to Gina Gaio Santos, assume a progressive path of ‘small gains’ and be based on fundamental assumptions like the ones proposed by Suzan Lewis and Gary Cooper (1995):

  • to rethink the notions of time and commitment in the organisation’s culture;
  • to redefine and extend the concept of career;
  • to incentivise and reward alternative management styles;
  • to rebuild the notion of equal opportunities.

References

Barbosa, Í. (2009), Entre a disseminação global e o ajustamento local: Discursos e práticas da gestão da diferença no contexto organizacional português, PhD thesis in management, School of Economics and Management, University of Minho, Braga.

Cabral-Cardoso, C. (2003), A igualdade de oportunidades entre homens e mulheres em contexto organizacional, School of Economics and Management, University of Minho, Braga.

Carvalho, T. (1998), Políticas e práticas de gestão de recursos humanos em Portugal: A influência da variável género, Dissertion in human resource management, School of Economics and Management, University of Minho, Braga.

Lewis, S. and Cooper, G. (1995), ‘Balancing the work/home interface: A European perspective’, Human Resource Management Review, Vol. 5, No. 4, 1995, pp. 289–305.

Perista, H. (2002), ‘Género e trabalho não pago: Os tempos das mulheres e os tempos dos homens’, Análise Social, Vol. 163, 2002, pp. 447–474.

Pinto, A.-M. (2003), ‘As diferenças de género na percepção do conflito trabalho-família’, Comportamento Organizacional e Gestão, Vol. 9, No. 2, 2003, pp. 195–212.

Santos, G.G. (2007), O desenvolvimento de carreira dos académicos: Uma análise centrada na relação entre o trabalho e a família, PhD thesis in management, School of Economics and Management, University of Minho, Braga.

Santos, G.G. (2010), ‘Gestão, traballho e relações sociais de género’ [Management, labour and social gender relations], in Ferreira, V. (organiser), A igualdade de mulheres e homens no trabalho e no emprego em Portugal: Políticas e Circunstâncias (in Portugese, 1.24Mb PDF) [The equality of women and men in labour and employment in Portugal: policies and circumstances], CITE, Lisbon, pp. 99–138.

Santos, G.G. and Cabral-Cardoso, C. (2008), ‘Work–family culture in academia: A gendered view of work–family conflict and coping strategies’, Gender in Management: An International Journal, Vol. 23, No. 6, 2008, pp. 442–457.

Heloísa Perista and Eudelina Quintal, CESIS

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