Gender, race and the social construction of leadership in organisations: A South African case study
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This thesis aims to provide a subjectivist account of women and people of colour’s leadership experiences within a specific social context, in order to offer a contribution to the largely acontextual leadership literature. A multi-level, intersectional analytical framework was used to explore the experiences of people who are marginalised in their attempt to access and practice leadership. The study used the South African private sector as a social context with unique and interesting gender and race dynamics to conduct this case study. The experiences of significantly underrepresented groups in organisational leadership were explored by means of 60 in-depth, face-to-face interviews with women and people of colour in strategic leadership positions, aspiring leaders in leadership development programmes and key informants, all from the South African private sector. Interviewees were grouped according to their intersectional identities and responses were analysed considering individual-level challenges and enablers, organisational-level challenges and enablers and also by considering responses within the socio-historic and socio-legal context. Key findings include evidence of the problematic nature of theorising leadership as an element of the leader; support for theoretical frameworks of occupational segregation and embodied social identities; evidence of the internalisation and rationalisation of institutionalised discrimination; evidence of social identities being mutually constituting, reinforcing and naturalising; evidence of the conflation of gender, race and merit in the equality debate; as well as a strong aversion among research participants towards positive discrimnination initiatives. The findings also suggest several areas of possible further research. This study addressed the limitations of leadership research, which is characterised by leader-centricism, romanticism, objectivism, gendered and racialised norms and additive theorising. Findings make theoretical and policy contributions by problematising merit, exposing leadership in the South African private sector organisations as a site of intersectional identity salience, disrupting key assumptions underpinning leader-follower relations, highlighting the potential for leveraging adversity and also by demonstrating the importance of leadership language in either disrupting or reinforcing inequality.
AuthorsLewis, Clifford Pierre
- Theses