Professional Resources
A Theory of Gendered Organizations 
   University of Oregon and Arbetslivscentrum, Stockholm 

   In spite of feminist recognition that hierarchical organizations are an 
important location of male dominance, most feminists writing about 
organizations assume that organizational structure is gender neutral.  This 
article argues that organizational structure is not gender neutral; on the 
contrary, assumptions about gender underlie the documents and contracts used 
to construct organizations and to provide the common sense ground for 
theorizing about them.  Their gendered nature is partly masked through 
obscuring the embodied nature of work.  Abstract jobs and hierarchies, common 
concepts in organizational thinking, assume a disembodied and universal 
worker.  This worker is actually a man; men's bodies, sexuality, and 
relationships to procreation and paid work are subsumed in the image of the 
worker.  Images of men's bodies and masculinity pervade organizational 
processes, marginalizing women and contributing to the maintenance of gender 
segregation in organizations.  The positing of gender-neutral and disembodied 
organizational structures and work relations is part of the larger strategy of 
control in industrial capitalist societies, which, at least partly, are built 
upon a deeply embedded substructure of gender difference. 
   AUTHOR'S NOTE: Presented at the American Sociological Association Annual 
Meetings, Chicago, August 1987.  I wish to thank Judith Lorber, Pat Martin, 
and Ronnie Steinberg who contributed a great deal to this article through 
their careful and insightful comments and suggestions.  Conversations with 
Harriet Holler, Carole Paleman, and Dorothy Smith also helped my thinking. 
   REPRINT REQUESTS: Joan Acker, Department of Sociology, University of 
Oregon, Eugene, OR 97403. 
   Most of us spend most of our days in work organizations that are almost 
always dominated by men.  The most powerful organizational positions are 
almost entirely occupied by men, with the exception of the occasional 
biological female who acts as a social man (Sorenson 1984).  Power at the 
national and world level is located in all-male enclaves at the pinnacle of 
large state and economic organizations.  These facts are not news, although 
sociologists paid no attention to them until feminism came along to point out 
the problematic nature of the obvious (Acker and Van Houten 1974; Moss Kanter 
1975, 1977).  Writers on organizations and organizational theory now include 
some consideration of women and gender (Clegg and Dunkerley 1980; Mills 1988; 
Morgan 1986), but their treatment is usually cursory, and male domination is, 
on the whole, not analyzed and not explained (Hearn and Parkin 1983). 
   Among feminist social scientists there are some outstanding contributions 
on women and organizations, such as the work of Moss Kanter (1977), Feldberg 
and Glenn (1979), MacKinnon (1979), and Ferguson (1984).  In addition, there 
have been theoretical and empirical investigations of particular aspects of 
organizational structure and process (Izraeli 1983; Martin 1985), and women's 
situations have been studied using traditional organizational ideas (Dexter 
1985; Wallace 1982).  Moreover, the very rich literature, popular and 
scholarly, on women and work contains much material on work organizations.  
However, most of this new knowledge has not been brought together in a 
systematic feminist theory of organizations. 
   A systematic theory of gender and organizations is needed for a number of 
reasons.  First, the gender segregation of work, including divisions between 
paid and unpaid work, is partly created through organizational practices.  
Second, and related to gender segregation, income and status inequality 
between women and men is also partly created in organizational processes; 
understanding these processes is necessary for understanding gender 
inequality.  Third, organizations are one arena in which widely disseminated 
cultural images of gender are invented and reproduced.  Knowledge of cultural 
production is important for understanding gender construction (Hearn and 
Parkin 1987).  Fourth, some aspects of individual gender identity, perhaps 
particularly masculinity, are also products of organizational processes and 
pressures.  Fifth, an important feminist project is to make large-scale 
organizations more democratic and more supportive of humane goals. 
   In this article, I begin by speculating about why feminist scholars have 
not debated organizational theory.  I then look briefly at how those feminist 
scholars who have paid attention to organizations have conceptualized them.  
In the main part of the article, I examine organizations as gendered processes 
in which both gender and sexuality have been obscured through a gender-
neutral, asexual discourse, and suggest some of the ways that gender, the 
body, and sexuality are part of the processes of control in work 
organizations.  Finally, I point to some directions for feminist theory about 
this ubiquitous human invention. 
   The early radical feminist critique of sexism denounced bureaucracy and 
hierarchy as male-created and male-dominated structures of control that 
oppress women.  The easiest answer to the "why so little debate" question is 
that the link between masculinity and organizational power was so obvious that 
no debate was needed.  However, experiences in the feminist movement suggest 
that the questions are not exhausted by recognizing male power. 
   Part of the feminist project was to create nonhierarchical, egalitarian 
organizations that would demonstrate the possibilities of nonpatriarchal ways 
of working (Gould 1979; Martin 1990).  Although many feminist organizations 
survived, few retained this radical-democratic form (Martin 1990).  Others 
succumbed to the same sorts of pressures that have undermined other utopian 
experiments with alternative work forms (Newman 1980), yet analyses of 
feminist efforts to create alternative organizations (Freeman 1975; Gould 
1979) were not followed by debates about the feasibility of nonpatriarchal, 
nonhierarchical organization or the relationship of organizations and gender.  
Perhaps one of the reasons was that the reality was embarrassing; women 
failing to cooperate with each other, taking power and using it in oppressive 
ways, creating their own structures of status and reward were at odds with 
other images of women as nurturing and supportive. 
   Another reason for feminist theorists' scant attention to conceptualizing 
organizations probably lies in the nature of the concepts and models at hand.  
As Dorothy Smith (1979) has argued, the available discourses on organizations, 
the way that organizational sociology is defined as an area or domain "is 
grounded in the working worlds and relations of men, whose experience and 
interests arise in the course of and in relation to participation in the 
ruling apparatus of this society" (p. 148).  Concepts developed to answer 
managerial questions, such as how to achieve organizational efficiency, were 
irrelevant to feminist questions, such as why women are always concentrated at 
the bottom of organizational structures. 
   Critical perspectives on organizations, with the notable exception of some 
of the studies of the labor process (Braverman 1974; Knights and Willmott 
1985), although focusing on control, power, exploitation, and how these 
relations might be changed, have ignored women and have been insensitive to 
the implications of gender for their own goals.  The active debate on work 
democracy, the area of organizational exploration closest to feminist concerns 
about oppressive structures, has been almost untouched by feminist insights 
(Rothschild 1987; Rothschild-Whitt, 1979).  For example, Carole Pateman's 
influential book, Participation and Democratic Theory (1970), critical in 
shaping the discussions on democratic organization in the 1970s, did not 
consider women or gender.  More recently, Pateman (1983a, 1983b, 1988) has 
examined the fundamental ideas of democracy from a feminist perspective, and 
other feminist political scientists have criticized theories of democracy 
(Eisenstein 1981), but on the whole, their work is isolated from the main 
discourse on work organization and democracy. 
   Empirical research on work democracy has also ignored women and gender.  
For example, in the 1980s, many male Swedish researchers saw little relation 
between questions of democracy and gender equality (Acker 1982), with a few 
exceptions (Fry 1986).  Other examples are studies of Mondragon, a community 
in the Spanish Basque country, which is probably the most famous attempt at 
democratic ownership, control, and organization.  Until Sally Hacker's 
feminist study (1987), researchers who went to Mondragon to see this model of 
work democracy failed to note the situation of women and asked no questions 
about gender.  In sum, the absence of women and gender from theoretical and 
empirical studies about work democracy provided little material for feminist 
   Another impediment to feminist theorizing is that the available discourses 
conceptualize organizations as gender neutral.  Both traditional and critical 
approaches to organizations originate in the male, abstract intellectual 
domain (Smith 1988) and take as reality the world as seen from that 
standpoint.  As a relational phenomenon, gender is difficult to see when only 
the masculine is present.  Since men in organizations take their behavior and 
perspectives to represent the human, organizational structures and processes 
are theorized as gender neutral.  When it is acknowledged that women and men 
are affected differently by organizations, it is argued that gendered 
attitudes and behavior are brought into (and contaminate) essentially gender-
neutral structures.  This view of organizations separates structures from the 
people in them. 
   Current theories of organization also ignore sexuality.  Certainly, a 
gender-neutral structure is also asexual.  If sexuality is a core component of 
the production of gender identity, gender images, and gender inequality, 
organizational theory that is blind to sexuality does not immediately offer 
avenues into the comprehension of gender domination (Hearn and Parkin 1983, 
1987).  Catharine MacKinnon's (1982) compelling argument that sexual 
domination of women is embedded within legal organizations has not to date 
become part of mainstream discussions.  Rather, behaviors such as sexual 
harassment are viewed as deviations of gendered actors, not, as MacKinnon 
(1979) might argue, as components of organizational structure.  
   The treatment of women and gender most assimilated into the literature on 
organizations is Rosabeth Kanter's Men and Women of the Corporation (1977).  
Moss Kanter sets out to show that gender differences in organizational 
behavior are due to structure rather than to characteristics of women and men 
as individuals (1977, 291-92).  She argues that the problems women have in 
large organizations are consequences of their structural placement, crowded in 
dead-end jobs at the bottom and exposed as tokens at the top.  Gender enters 
the picture through organizational roles that "carry characteristic images of 
the kinds of people that should occupy them" (p. 250).  Here, Moss Kanter 
recognizes the presence of gender in early models of organizations 
   A "masculine ethic" of rationality and reason can be identified in the 
early image of managers.  This "masculine ethic" elevates the traits assumed 
to belong to men with educational advantages to necessities for effective 
organizations: a tough-minded approach to problems; analytic abilities to 
abstract and plan; a capacity to set aside personal, emotional considerations 
in the interests of task accomplishment; a cognitive superiority in problem-
solving and decision making.  (1974, 43) 
   Identifying the central problem of seeming gender neutrality, Moss Kanter 
observes: "While organizations were being defined as sex-neutral machines, 
masculine principles were dominating their authority structures" (1977, 46).  
In spite of these insights, organizational structure, not gender, is the focus 
of Moss Kanter's analysis.  In posing the argument as structure or gender, 
Moss Kanter also implicitly posits gender as standing outside of structure, 
and she fails to follow up her own observations about masculinity and 
organizations (1977, 22).  Moss Kanter's analysis of the effects of 
organizational position applies as well to men in low-status positions.  Her 
analysis of the effect of numbers, or the situation of the "token" worker, 
applies also to men as minorities in women-predominant organizations, but 
fails to account for gender differences in the situation of the token.  In 
contrast to the token woman, White men in women-dominated workplaces are 
likely to be positively evaluated and to be rapidly promoted to positions of 
greater authority.  The specificity of male dominance is absent in Moss 
Kanter's argument, even though she presents a great deal of material that 
illuminates gender and male dominance.  Another approach, using Moss Kanter's 
insights but building on the theoretical work of Hartmann (1976), is the 
argument that organizations have a dual structure, bureaucracy and patriarchy 
(Ressner 1987).  Ressner argues that bureaucracy has its own dynamic, and 
gender enters through patriarchy, a more or less autonomous structure, that 
exists alongside the bureaucratic structure.  The analysis of two hierarchies 
facilitates and clarifies the discussion of women's experiences of 
discrimination, exclusion, segregation, and low wages.  However, this approach 
has all the problems of two systems theories of women's oppression (Young 
l981; see also Acker l988): the central theory of bureaucratic or 
organizational structure is unexamined, and patriarchy is added to allow the 
theorist to deal with women.  Like Moss Kanter, Ressner's approach implicitly 
accepts the assumption of mainstream organizational theory that organizations 
are gender-neutral social phenomena. 
   Ferguson, in The Feminist Case Against Bureaucracy (1984), develops a 
radical feminist critique of bureaucracy as an organization of oppressive male 
power, arguing that it is both mystified and constructed through an abstract 
discourse on rationality, rules, and procedures.  Thus, in contrast to the 
implicit arguments of Moss Kanter and Ressner, Ferguson views bureaucracy 
itself as a construction of male domination.  In response to this overwhelming 
organization of power, bureaucrats, workers, and clients are all "feminized," 
as they develop ways of managing their powerlessness that at the same time 
perpetuate their dependence.  Ferguson argues further that feminist discourse, 
rooted in women's experiences of caring and nurturing outside bureaucracy's 
control, provides a ground for opposition to bureaucracy and for the 
development of alternative ways of organizing society. 
   However, there are problems with Ferguson's theoretical formulation.  Her 
argument that feminization is a metaphor for bureaucratization not only uses a 
stereotype of femininity as oppressed, weak, and passive, but also, by 
equating the experience of male and female clients, women workers, and male 
bureaucrats, obscures the specificity of women's experiences and the 
connections between masculinity and power (Brown 1984; see also Martin 1987; 
Mitchell 1986; Ressner 1986).  Ferguson builds on Foucault's (1979) analysis 
of power as widely diffused and constituted through discourse, and the 
problems in her analysis have their origin in Foucault, who also fails to 
place gender in his analysis of power.  What results is a disembodied, and 
consequently gender-neutral, bureaucracy as the oppressor.  That is, of 
course, not a new vision of bureaucracy, but it is one in which gender enters 
only as analogy, rather than as a complex component of processes of control 
and domination. 
   In sum, some of the best feminist attempts to theorize about gender and 
organizations have been trapped within the constraints of definitions of the 
theoretical domain that cast organizations as gender neutral and asexual.  
These theories take us only part of the way to understanding how deeply 
embedded gender is in organizations.  There is ample empirical evidence: We 
know now that gender segregation is an amazingly persistent pattern and that 
the gender identity of jobs and occupations is repeatedly reproduced, often in 
new forms (Bielby and Baron 1987; Reskin and Roos 1987; Strobet and Arnold 
1987).  The reconstruction of gender segregation is an integral part of the 
dynamic of technological and organizational change (Cockburn 1983, 1985; 
Hacker 1981).  Individual men and particular groups of men do not always win 
in these processes, but masculinity always seems to symbolize self-respect for 
men at the bottom and power for men at the top, while confirming for both 
their gender's superiority.  Theories that posit organization and bureaucracy 
as gender neutral cannot adequately account for this continual gendered 
structuring.  We need different theoretical strategies that examine 
organizations as gendered processes in which sexuality also plays a part. 
   The idea that social structure and social processes are gendered has slowly 
emerged in diverse areas of feminist discourse.  Feminists have elaborated 
gender as a concept to mean more than a socially constructed, binary identity 
and image.  This turn to gender as an analytic category (Connell 1987; Harding 
1986; Scott 1986) is an attempt to find new avenues into the dense and 
complicated problem of explaining the extraordinary persistence through 
history and across societies of the subordination of women.  Scott, for 
example, defines gender as follows: "The core of the definition rests on an 
integral connection between two propositions; gender is a constitutive element 
of social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes, and 
gender is a primary way of signifying relationships of power" (1986, 1067). 
   New approaches to the study of waged work, particularly studies of the 
labor process, see organizations as gendered, not as gender neutral (Cockburn 
1985; Game and Pringle 1984; Knights and Willmott 1985; Phillips and Taylor 
1986; Sorenson 1984) and conceptualize organizations as one of the locations 
of the inextricably intertwined production of both gender and class relations.  
Examining class and gender (Acker 1988), I have argued that class is 
constructed through gender and that class relations are always gendered. 
   The structure of the labor market, relations in the workplace, the control 
of the work process, and the underlying wage relation are always affected by 
symbols of gender, processes of gender identity, and material inequalities 
between women and men.  These processes are complexly related to and 
powerfully support the reproduction of the class structure.  Here, I will 
focus on the interface of gender and organizations, assuming the simultaneous 
presence of class relations. 
   To say that an organization, or any other analytic unit, is gendered means 
that advantage and disadvantage, exploitation and control, action and emotion, 
meaning and identity, are patterned through and in terms of a distinction 
between male and female, masculine and feminine.  Gender is not an addition to 
ongoing processes, conceived as gender neutral.  Rather, it is an integral 
part of those processes, which cannot be properly understood without an 
analysis of gender (Connell 1987; West and Zimmerman 1987).  Gendering occurs 
in at least five interacting processes (cf. Scott 1986) that, although 
analytically distinct, are, in practice, parts of the same reality. 
   First is the construction of divisions along lines of gender - divisions of 
labor, of allowed behaviors, of locations in physical space, of power, 
including the institutionalized means of maintaining the divisions in the 
structures of labor markets, the family, the state.  Such divisions in work 
organizations are well documented (e.g., Moss Kanter 1977) as well as often 
obvious to casual observers.  Although there are great variations in the 
patterns and extent of gender division, men are almost always in the highest 
positions of organizational power.  Managers' decisions often initiate gender 
divisions (Cohn 1985), and organizational practices maintain them - although 
they also take on new forms with changes in technology and the labor process.  
For example, Cynthia Cockburn (1983, 1985) has shown how the introduction of 
new technology in a number of industries was accompanied by a reorganization, 
but not abolition, of the gendered division of labor that left the technology 
in men's control and maintained the definition of skilled work as men's work 
and unskilled work as women's work. 
   Second is the construction of symbols and images that explain, express, 
reinforce, or sometimes oppose those divisions.  These have many sources or 
forms in language, ideology, popular and high culture, dress, the press, 
television.  For example, as Moss Kanter (1975), among others, has noted, the 
image of the top manager or the business leader is an image of successful, 
forceful masculinity (see also Lipman-Blumen 1980).  In Cockburn's studies, 
men workers' images of masculinity linked their gender with their technical 
skills; the possibility that women might also obtain such skills represented a 
threat to that masculinity. 
   The third set of processes that produce gendered social structures, 
including organizations, are interactions between women and men, women and 
women, men and men, including all those patterns that enact dominance and 
submission.  For example, conversation analysis shows how gender differences 
in interruptions, turn taking, and setting the topic of discussion recreate 
gender inequality in the flow of ordinary talk (West and Zimmerman 1983).  
Although much of this research has used experimental groups, qualitative 
accounts of organizational life record the same phenomena: Men are the actors, 
women the emotional support (Hochschild 1983). 
   Fourth, these processes help to produce gendered components of individual 
identity, which may include consciousness of the existence of the other three 
aspects of gender, such as, in organizations, choice of appropriate work, 
language use, clothing, and presentation of self as a gendered member of an 
organization (Reskin and Roos 1987). 
   Finally, gender is implicated in the fundamental, ongoing processes of 
creating and conceptualizing social structures.  Gender is obviously a basic 
constitutive element in family and kinship, but, less obviously, it helps to 
frame the underlying relations of other structures, including complex 
organizations.  Gender is a constitutive element in organizational logic, or 
the underlying assumptions and practices that construct most contemporary work 
organizations (Clegg and Dunkerley 1980).  Organizational logic appears to be 
gender neutral; gender-neutral theories of bureaucracy and organizations 
employ and give expression to this logic.  However, underlying both academic 
theories and practical guides for managers is a gendered substructure that is 
reproduced daily in practical work activities and, some what less frequently, 
in the writings of organizational theorists.  (cf. Smith 1988) 
   Organizational logic has material forms in written work rules, labor 
contracts, managerial directives, and other documentary tools for running 
large organizations, including systems of job evaluation widely used in the 
comparable-worth strategy of feminists.  Job evaluation is accomplished 
through the use and interpretation of documents that describe jobs and how 
they are to be evaluated.  These documents contain symbolic indicators of 
structure; the ways that they are interpreted and talked about in the process 
of job evaluation reveals the underlying organizational logic.  I base the 
following theoretical discussion on my observations of organizational logic in 
action in the job-evaluation component of a comparable-worth project (Acker 
1987, 1989, 1990). 
   Job evaluation is a management tool used in every industrial country, 
capitalist and socialist, to rationalize the organizational hierarchy and to 
help in setting equitable wages (International Labour Office 1986).  Although 
there are many different systems of job evaluation, the underlying rationales 
are similar enough so that the observation of one system can provide a window 
into a common organizational mode of thinking and practice. 
   In job evaluation, the content of jobs is described and jobs are compared 
on criteria of knowledge, skill, complexity, effort, and working conditions.  
The particular system I observed was built incrementally over many years to 
reflect the assessment of managers about the job components for which they 
were willing to pay.  Thus today this system can be taken as composed of 
residues of these judgments, which arc a set of decision rules that, when 
followed, reproduce managerial values.  But these rules are also the imagery 
out of which managers construct and reconstruct their organizations.  The 
rules of job evaluation, which help to determine pay differences between jobs, 
are not simply a compilation of managers' values or sets of beliefs, but are 
the underlying logic or organization that provides at least part of the 
blueprint for its structure.  Every time that job evaluation is used, that 
structure is created or reinforced. 
   Job evaluation evaluates jobs, not their incumbents.  The job is the basic 
unit in a work organization's hierarchy, a description of a set of tasks, 
competencies, and responsibilities represented as a position on an 
organizational chart.  A job is separate from people.  It is an empty slot, a 
reification that must continually be reconstructed, for positions exist only 
as scraps of paper until people fill them.  The rationale for evaluating jobs 
as devoid of actual workers reveals further the organizational logic - the 
intent is to assess the characteristics of the job, not of their incumbents 
who may vary in skill, industriousness, and commitment.  Human beings are to 
be motivated, managed, and chosen to fit the job.  The job exists as a thing 
   Every job has a place in the hierarchy, another essential element in 
organizational logic.  Hierarchies, like jobs, are devoid of actual workers 
and based on abstract differentiations.  Hierarchy is taken for granted, only 
its particular form is at issue.  Job evaluation is based on the assumption 
that workers in general see hierarchy as an acceptable principle, and the 
final test of the evaluation of any particular job is whether its place in the 
hierarchy looks reasonable.  The ranking of jobs within an organization must 
make sense to managers, but it is also important that most workers accept the 
ranking as just if the system of evaluation is to contribute to orderly 
working relationships. 
   Organizational logic assumes a congruence between responsibility, job 
complexity, and hierarchical position.  For example, a lower-level position, 
the level of most jobs filled predominantly by women, must have equally low 
levels of complexity and responsibility.  Complexity and responsibility are 
defined in terms of managerial and professional tasks.  The child-care 
worker's responsibility for other human beings or the complexity facing the 
secretary who serves six different, temperamental bosses can only be minimally 
counted if the congruence between position level, responsibility, and 
complexity is to be preserved.  In addition, the logic holds that two jobs at 
different hierarchical levels cannot be responsible for the same outcome; as a 
consequence, for example, tasks delegated to a secretary by a manager will not 
raise her hierarchical level because such tasks are still his responsibility, 
even though she has the practical responsibility to see that they are done.  
Levels of skill, complexity, and responsibility, all used in constructing 
hierarchy, are conceptualized as existing independently of any concrete 
   In organizational logic, both jobs and hierarchies are abstract categories 
that have no occupants, no human bodies, no gender.  However, an abstract job 
can exist, can be transformed into a concrete instance, only if there is a 
worker.  In organizational logic, filling the abstract job is a disembodied 
worker who exists only for the work.  Such a hypothetical worker cannot have 
other imperatives of existence that impinge upon the job.  At the very least, 
outside imperatives cannot be included within the definition of the job.  Too 
many obligations outside the boundaries of the job would make a worker 
unsuited for the position.  The closest the disembodied worker doing the 
abstract job comes to a real worker is the male worker whose life centers on 
his full-time, life-long job, while his wife or another woman takes care of 
his personal needs and his children.  While the realities of life in 
industrial capitalism never allowed all men to live out this ideal, it was the 
goal for labor unions and the image of the worker in social and economic 
theory.  The woman worker, assumed to have legitimate obligations other than 
those required by the job, did not fit with the abstract job. 
   The concept "a job" is thus implicitly a gendered concept, even though 
organizational logic presents it as gender neutral.  "A job" already contains 
the gender-based division of labor and the separation between the public and 
the private sphere.  The concept of "a job" assumes a particular gendered 
organization of domestic life and social production.  It is an example of what 
Dorothy Smith has called "the gender subtext of the rational and impersonal" 
(1988, 4).  Hierarchies are gendered because they also are constructed on 
these underlying assumptions: Those who are committed to paid employment are 
"naturally" more suited to responsibility and authority; those who must divide 
their commitments are in the lower ranks.  In addition, principles of 
hierarchy, as exemplified in most existing job-evaluation systems, have been 
derived from already existing gendered structures.  The best-known systems 
were developed by management consultants working with managers to build 
methods of consistently evaluating jobs and rationalizing pay and job 
classifications.  For example, all managers with similar levels of 
responsibility in the firm should have similar pay.  Job-evaluation systems 
were intended to reflect the values of managers and to produce a believable 
ranking of jobs based on those values.  Such rankings would not deviate 
substantially from rankings already in place that contain gender typing and 
gender segregation of jobs and the clustering of women workers in the lowest 
and the worst-paid jobs.  The concrete value judgments that constitute 
conventional job evaluation are designed to replicate such structures (Acker 
1989).  Replication is achieved in many ways; for example, skills in managing 
money, more often found in men's than in women's jobs, frequently receive more 
points than skills in dealing with clients or human relations skills, more 
often found in women's than in men's jobs (Steinberg and Haignere 1987). 
   The gender-neutral status of "a job" and of the organizational theories of 
which it is a part depend upon the assumption that the worker is abstract, 
disembodied, although in actuality both the concept of "a job" and real 
workers are deeply gendered and "bodied." Carole Pateman (1986), in a 
discussion of women and political theory, similarly points out that the most 
fundamental abstraction in the concept of liberal individualism is "the 
abstraction of the 'individual' from the body.  In order for the individual to 
appear in liberal theory as a universal figure, who represents anyone and 
everyone, the individual must be disembodied" (p. 8).  If the individual were 
not abstracted from bodily attributes, it would be clear that the individual 
represents one sex and one gender, not a universal being.  The political 
fiction of the universal "individual" or "citizen," fundamental to ideas of 
democracy and contract, excluded women, judging them lacking in the capacities 
necessary for participation in civil society.  Although women now have the 
rights of citizens in democratic states, they still stand in an ambiguous 
relationship to the universal individual who is "constructed from a male body 
so that his identity is always masculine" (Pateman 1988, 223).  The worker 
with "a job" is the same universal "individual" who in actual social reality 
is a man.  The concept of a universal worker excludes and marginalizes women 
who cannot, almost by definition, achieve the qualities of a real worker 
because to do so is to become like a man. 
   The abstract, bodiless worker, who occupies the abstract, gender-neutral 
job has no sexuality, no emotions, and does not procreate.  The absence of 
sexuality, emotionality, and procreation in organizational logic and 
organizational theory is an additional element that both obscures and helps to 
reproduce the underlying gender relations. 
   New work on sexuality in organizations (Hearn and Parkin 1987), often 
indebted to Foucault (1979), suggests that this silence on sexuality may have 
historical roots in the development of large, all-male organizations that are 
the primary locations of societal power (Connell 1987).  The history of modern 
organizations includes, among other processes, the suppression of sexuality in 
the interests of organization and the conceptual exclusion of the body as a 
concrete living whole (Burrell 1984, 1987; Hearn and Parkin 1987; Morgan 
   In a review of historical evidence on sexuality in early modern 
organizations, Burrell (1984, 98) suggests that "the suppression of sexuality 
is one of the first tasks the bureaucracy sets itself." Long before the 
emergence of the very large factory of the nineteenth century, other large 
organizations, such as armies and monasteries, which had allowed certain kinds 
of limited participation of women, were more and more excluding women and 
attempting to banish sexuality in the interests of control of members and the 
organization's activities (Burrell 1984, 1987; Hacker and Hacker 1987). 
   Active sexuality was the enemy of orderly procedures, and excluding women 
from certain areas of activity may have been, at least in part, a way to 
control sexuality.  As Burrell (1984) points out, the exclusion of women did 
not eliminate homosexuality, which has always been an element in the life of 
large all-male organizations, particularly if members spend all of their time 
in the organization.  Insistence on heterosexuality or celibacy were ways to 
control homosexuality.  But heterosexuality had to be practiced outside the 
organization, whether it was an army or a capitalist workplace.  Thus the 
attempts to banish sexuality from the workplace were part of the wider process 
that differentiated the home, the location of legitimate sexual activity, from 
the place of capitalist production.  The concept of the disembodied job 
symbolizes this separation of work and sexuality. 
   Similarly, there is no place within the disembodied job or the gender-
neutral organization for other "bodied" processes, such as human reproduction 
(Rothman 1989) or the free expression of emotions (Hochschild 1983). 
   Sexuality, procreation, and emotions all intrude upon and disrupt the ideal 
functioning of the organization, which tries to control such interferences.  
However, as argued above, the abstract worker is actually a man, and it is the 
man's body, its sexuality, minimal responsibility in procreation, and 
conventional control of emotions that pervades work and organizational 
processes.  Women's bodies - female sexuality, their ability to procreate and 
their pregnancy, breast-feeding, and child care, menstruation, and mythic 
"emotionality" - are suspect, stigmatized, and used as grounds for control and 
   The ranking of women's jobs is often justified on the basis of women's 
identification with childbearing and domestic life.  They are devalued because 
women are assumed to be unable to conform to the demands of the abstract job.  
Gender segregation at work is also sometimes openly justified by the necessity 
to control sexuality, and women may be barred from types of work, such as 
skilled blue-collar work or top management, where most workers are men, on the 
grounds that potentially disruptive sexual liaisons should be avoided (Lorber 
1984).  On the other hand, the gendered definition of some jobs "includes 
sexualization of the woman worker as a part of the job" (MacKinnon 1979, 18).  
Those are often jobs that serve men, such as secretaries, or a largely male 
public (Hochschild 1983). 
   The maintenance of gendered hierarchy is achieved partly through such 
often-tacit controls based on arguments about women's reproduction, 
emotionality, and sexuality, helping to legitimate the organizational 
structures created through abstract, intellectualized techniques.  More overt 
controls, such as sexual harassment, relegating childbearing women to lower-
level mobility tracks, and penalizing (or rewarding) their emotion management 
also conform to and reinforce hierarchy.  MacKinnon (1979), on the basis of an 
extensive analysis of legal cases, argues that the willingness to tolerate 
sexual harassment is often a condition of the job, both a consequence and a 
cause of gender hierarchy. 
   While women's bodies are ruled out of order, or sexualized and objectified, 
in work organizations, men's bodies are not.  Indeed, male sexual imagery 
pervades organizational metaphors and language, helping to give form to work 
activities (see Hearn and Parkin 1987, for an extended discussion).  For 
example, the military and the male world of sports are considered valuable 
training for organizational success and provide images for teamwork, 
campaigns, and tough competition.  The symbolic expression of male sexuality 
may be used as a means of control over male workers, too, allowed or even 
encouraged with in the bounds of the work situation to create cohesion or 
alleviate stress (Collinson 1988; Hearn and Parkin 1987).  Management approval 
of pornographic pictures in the locker room or support for all-male work and 
play groups where casual talk is about sexual exploits or sports are examples.  
These symbolic expressions of male dominance also act as significant controls 
over women in work organizations because they are per se excluded from the 
informal bonding men produce with the "body talk" of sex and sports. 
   Symbolically, a certain kind of male heterosexual sexuality plays an 
important part in legitimating organizational power.  Connell (1987) calls 
this hegemonic masculinity, emphasizing that it is formed around dominance 
over women and in opposition to other masculinities, although its exact 
content changes as historical conditions change.  Currently, hegemonic 
masculinity is typified by the image of the strong, technically competent, 
authoritative leader who is sexually potent and attractive, has a family, and 
has his emotions under control.  Images of male sexual function and 
patriarchal paternalism may also be embedded in notions of what the manager 
does when he leads his organization (Calas and Smircich 1989).  Women's bodies 
cannot be adapted to hegemonic masculinity; to function at the top of male 
hierarchies requires that women render irrelevant everything that makes them 
   The image of the masculine organizational leader could be expanded, without 
altering its basic elements, to include other qualities also needed, according 
to many management experts, in contemporary organizations, such as flexibility 
and sensitivity to the capacities and needs of subordinates.  Such qualities 
are not necessarily the symbolic monopoly of women.  For example, the wise and 
experienced coach is empathetic and supportive to his individual players and 
flexibly leads his team against devious opposition tactics to victory. 
   The connections between organizational power and men's sexuality may be 
even more deeply embedded in organizational processes.  Sally Hacker (1989) 
argues that eroticism and technology have common roots in human sensual 
pleasure and that for the engineer or the skilled worker, and probably for 
many other kinds of workers, there is a powerful erotic element in work 
processes.  The pleasures of technology, Hacker continues, become harnessed to 
domination, and passion becomes directed toward power over nature, the 
machine, and other people, particularly women, in the work hierarchy.  Hacker 
believes that men lose a great deal in this transformation of the erotic into 
domination, but they also win in other ways.  For example, many men gain 
economically from the organizational gender hierarchy.  As Crompton and Jones 
(1984) point out, men's career opportunities in white-collar work depend on 
the barriers that deny those opportunities to women.  If the mass of female 
clerical workers were able to compete with men in such work, promotion 
probabilities for men would be drastically reduced. 
   Class relations as well as gender relations are reproduced in 
organizations.  Critical, but nonfeminist, perspectives on work organizations 
argue that rational-technical systems for organizing work, such as job 
classification and evaluation systems and detailed specification of how work 
is to be done, are parts of pervasive systems of control that help to maintain 
class relations (Edwards 1979).  The abstract "job," devoid of a human body, 
is a basic unit in such systems of control.  The positing of a job as an 
abstract category, separate from the worker, is an essential move in creating 
jobs as mechanisms of compulsion and control over work processes.  Rational-
technical, ostensibly gender-neutral, control systems are built upon and 
conceal a gendered substructure (Smith 1988) in which men's bodies fill the 
abstract jobs.  Use of such abstract systems continually reproduces the 
underlying gender assumptions and the subordinated or excluded place of women.  
Gender processes, including the manipulation and management of women's and 
men's sexuality, procreation, and emotion, are part of the control processes 
of organizations, maintaining not only gender stratification but contributing 
also to maintaining class and, possibly, race and ethnic relations.  Is the 
abstract worker white as well as male?  Are white-male-dominated organizations 
also built on underlying assumptions about the proper place of people with 
different skin colors?  Are racial differences produced by organizational 
practices as gender differences are? 
   Feminists wanting to theorize about organizations face a difficult task 
because of the deeply embedded gendering of both organizational processes and 
theory.  Common sense notions, such as jobs and positions, which constitute 
the units managers use in making organizations and some theorists use in 
making theory, are posited upon the prior exclusion of women.  This underlying 
construction of a way of thinking is not simply an error, but part of 
processes of organization.  This exclusion in turn creates fundamental 
inadequacies in theorizing about gender-neutral systems of positions to be 
filled.  Creating more adequate theory may come only as organizations are 
transformed in ways that dissolve the concept of the abstract job and restore 
the absent female body. 
   Such a transformation would be radical in practice because it would 
probably require the end of organizations as they exist today, along with a 
redefinition of work and work relations.  The rhythm and timing of work would 
be adapted to the rhythms of life outside of work.  Caring work would be just 
as important and well rewarded as any other; having a baby or taking care of a 
sick mother would be as valued as making an automobile or designing computer 
software.  Hierarchy would be abolished, and workers would run things 
themselves.  Of course, women and men would share equally in different kinds 
of work.  Perhaps there would be some communal or collective form of 
organization where work and intimate relations are closely related, children 
learn in places close to working adults, and workmates, lovers, and friends 
are all part of the same group.  Utopian writers and experimenters have left 
us many possible models (Hacker 1989).  But this brief listing begs many 
questions, perhaps the most important of which I show, given the present 
organization of economy and technology and the pervasive and powerful, 
impersonal, textually mediated relations of ruling (Smith 1988), so radical a 
change could come about. 
   Feminist research and theorizing, by continuing to puzzle out how gender 
provides the subtext for arrangements of subordination, can make some 
contributions to a future in which collective action to do what needs doing 
producing goods, caring for people, disposing of the garbage - is organized so 
that dominance, control, and subordination, particularly the subordination of 
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   Joan Acker wrote this article while she was a visiting professor at The 
Swedish Center for Working Life. She has also recently published Doing 
Comparable Worth: Gender, Class, and Pay Equity (Philadelphia: Temple 
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Theory, edited by Ruth A. Wallace (Newbury Park CA: Sage, 1989). 

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