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Meritocracy, difference and choice: women's experiences of advantage and disadvantage at work

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Abstract:

Purpose ‐ This editorial aims to introduce the special issue on meritocracy, difference and choice. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The first part is a commentary on key issues in the study of the notions of meritocracy, difference and choice. The second part presents the six papers in the special issue. Findings ‐ Five of the six papers in this special issue explore the work experiences of women managers/directors in senior positions within a variety of organizations. All of these papers demonstrate that despite their economic empowerment, these women are still strongly connected to the domestic realm through their continued entanglement in the traditional roles of mother and homemaker. This has led them to interpret their work situation either through a consideration of what they understand by the notion of merit or a presentation of their situation through the lens of choice. A further paper which explores the experiences of sex workers exposes the gendered nature of agency, highlighting the limitations on "choice" that different types of workers experience. Research limitations/implications ‐ The authors comment on how contemporary notions of merit and choice individualise women's experience within organisations, ignoring the structural and systemic elements inherent to women's continued disadvantage. This allows "blame" for women's absence in the upper echelons of organisations to lie with women themselves, explaining this in terms of their lack of skills or the traditional "choices" they make. The six papers which make up the special issue explore how women's "choices" are constrained, how the contemporary discourses of merit and choice conceal issues of structure and organizational process and how women struggle to make sense of their own and others' experiences. Practical implications ‐ The issues discussed in the papers have important implications for understanding women's experience of work and organizations. They highlight the need to introduce a structural and systemic element to the understanding of how women experience work at senior (and other) levels of organizations, why they take the decision to leave a senior position and why women appear to "choose" not to seek senior positions. Originality/valueGender and Management: An International Journal invited this special issue on meritocracy, difference and choice to draw attention to the ways in which women draw on these discourses as a means of understanding their organizational situations and how use of these discourses acts to conceal the structural and systemic element connected to their work experiences.

Keywords: Career development; Careers; Job satisfaction; Women; Women workers

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1108/17542411011036374

Publication date: January 1, 2010

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