The Construction of Management
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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.
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Chapter 8: Competence: Empowerment Rather Than Control

Brownen Ann Rees


A major critique levelled against critical theory is its rather oblique theorising, and its tendency to ‘hypercritique’, thus rendering many of its subtle insights of little practical value. To address this issue and to add further insights into competence frameworks, I concentrated on one organisation which had a very different approach to competences, that of a beauty and cosmetics manufacturer and retailer based in the south of England. This organisation differed from the others in that it had very different reasons for introducing competences. It was, moreover, concerned about the so-called objectivity of the frameworks available. Above all, it maintained constant vigilance about whether the competence approach contained in-built bias against women employees. For this reason, I pursued the research deeper into this organisation, in order to explore how the approach was implemented, and what the implications of the approach were likely to be here for women managers. I selected this as a critical case (Smith, Whipp and Willmott 1988) since it provided an exceptional case as a point of comparison. 8.1 WHY AND HOW IMPLEMENTATION TOOK PLACE This organisation is a publicly quoted manufacturer and retailer of health and beauty goods. It began in 1976 with the opening of the first shop in the south of England and had become an international company rapidly expanding throughout the world. Its rise has been phenomenal. By the financial year ending of 1990 the organisation had 457 shops trading in 38 countries and in 18 languages; 1265 staff were directly employed. By...

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