Unseen and unheard? Women managers and organizational learning

Martin, Lynn M.; Lord, Gemma and Warren-Smith, Izzy (2018). Unseen and unheard? Women managers and organizational learning. The Learning Organization, 25(1) pp. 40–50.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1108/TLO-06-2017-0057


Purpose – This paper aims to use (in)visibility as a lens to understand the lived experience of six women managers in the headquarters of a large multinational organization in the UK to identify how “gender” is expressed in the context of organizational learning.

Design/methodology/approach – The researchers take a phenomenological approach via qualitative data collection with a purposeful sample – the six female managers in a group of 24. Data were collected through quarterly semi-structured interviews over 12 months with the themes – knowledge, interaction and gender.

Findings – Organizations seek to build advantage to gain and retain competitive leadership. Their resilience in a changing task environment depends on their ability to recognize, gain and use knowledge likely to deliver these capabilities. Here, gender was a barrier to effective organizational learning with women’s knowledge and experience often unseen and unheard.

Research limitations/implications – This is a piece of research limited to exploration of gender as other, but ethnicity, age, social class, disability and sexual preference, alone or in combination, may be equally subject to invisibility in knowledge terms; further research would be needed to test this however.

Practical implications – Practical applications relate to the need for organizations to examine and address their operations for exclusion based on perceived “otherness”. Gendered organizations cause problems for their female members, but they also exclude the experience and knowledge of key individuals as seen here, where gender impacted on effective knowledge sharing and cocreation of knowledge.

Social implications – The study offers further evidence of gendered organizations and their impacts on organizational effectiveness, but it also offers insights into the continues social acceptance of a masculinized normative model for socio-economic practice.

Originality/value – This exploration of gender and organizational learning offers new insights to help explain the way in which organizational learning occurs – or fails to occur – with visibility/invisibility of one group shaped by gendered attitudes and processes. It shows that organizational learning is not gender neutral (as it appears in mainstream organizational learning research) and calls for researchers to include this as a factor in future research.

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