The Construction of Management

The Construction of Management

Competence and Gender Issues at Work

Brownen Ann Rees

Despite continuing equal opportunity approaches, women are still significantly under-represented at senior management levels and earn less than male colleagues. The author questions whether competence systems – developed and implemented in the workplace to provide objective measurement of management performance – contribute to, rather than improve, women’s disadvantaged position in the workplace.

Chapter 4: The Birth of the Competent Manager

Brownen Ann Rees

Subjects: business and management, critical management studies


In the 1980s a number of reports stressed that British companies were in danger of losing out to foreign competition because there was not sufficient stock of managers necessary to meet the exigencies of the changing environment (Barham and Conway 1988; Constable and McCormick 1987; Handy et al. 1987). The notion of competence emerged from a plethora of discourses of work reform as a means of training and building such a stock of UK managers.1 In this same era, the notion of the ‘enterprising organisation’ strongly emerged, with its advocacy of such measures as individualised pay schemes, appraisal systems, and individual and group incentives. The intention was to persuade workers of the advantages of managing themselves and their work, not only to develop better as skilled workers but also to meet organisational objectives (Keat and Abercrombie 1991). Near-simultaneous initiatives such as ‘Excellence’, ‘Total Quality Management’, ‘Culture Change Programmes’, ‘Teamworking’ and ‘Business Process Re-engineering’ tended to focus upon relations with customers, where the sovereign consumer (whether internal or external to the organisation) dominated the design of organisational processes. This panoply of notions and initiatives in the 1980s generally emphasised the establishment of ‘organic’ or flexible organisational forms which were expected to overcome the perceived stasis and inefficiency of rigid ‘bureaucratic’ structures and practices (Du Gay and Salaman 1992). Managers were charged with the pivotal role of securing change through the fostering of ‘entrepreneurial values’, first within themselves and then within their subordinates (Du Gay, Salaman and Rees 1996). The notion of...

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