Women in Danish top management - a non-existing discussion?

Julie Kroer Larsen & Line Grastveit Rosenkvist

Student thesis: Master thesis


The paper explores how discourses about women in top management are constructed and how discursive struggle is reflected in actors and opinion leaders’ articulations about the subject. Firstly,
this implies exploring which themes are most dominating in empirical evidence and how these are articulated. Secondly, the paper analyses which discursive resources the actors draw upon and
which perceived versions of the reality they present. Thirdly, the verbalisation of social groups about the subject women in top management are analysed in terms of geographic and social
perceived communities. Fourthly, the field of tension between structure and individual, society and actors, is analysed. This entails focusing on how discursive struggle about women in top management play out. Fifthly, this paper examines how governmentality from Foucault can provide knowledge of how actors achieve influence during a workday.

A discourse analysis is conducted based on articulations from eleven in-depth interviews with people in top management positions, opinion leaders and experts. Laclau and Mouffe’s (1985)
theory is the foundation of our discourse analysis and the theory is supplied with Bom’s (2015) methodological instructions, which draws upon Potter and Wetherell’s contribution to the discourse
analysis. Foucault's definition on power, specifically the term governmentality, is also applied separately in order to investigate thoroughly how power is produced and reproduced in this context.
Alan Bryman's (2012) thematic approach serves as overall guidance for structuring the empirical evidence and Sara J. Tracy’s (2013) guidance on coding is applied, which serves as the foundation
for discovering five core themes.

Coding and analysis of the empirical evidence show the following five themes as most dominant: ‘the debate’, ‘family life’, ‘politics’, ‘research’ and ‘our common problem’. Analysis of each core
theme reveals construction of different discourses about the overall subject women in top management. Overall, three different discourses about the subject women in leadership are formed:
the discourse based on voluntariness, the discourse where status quo is considered fine and the last discourse where political regulation is wanted. The informants either speak into or against the two
discourses about voluntariness or regulation, the last discourse is articulated, but not drawn upon by any informant. This shows that all eleven actors consider that few female top managers on the
Danish labour market is a social problem. The informants have just different perceptions of how this problem should be dealt with.

The analysis shows that ‘the debate’ about women in top management is narrow-minded, unprofessional, effectless, lacks facts, consists of few contributing actors and antipoles. The
informants are dissatisfied how the debate about the subject is carried out and wish it to be more factual oriented and acknowledged as a common social problem. Our preliminary presumption
about the debate being unprofessional and subjective is consequently confirmed. ‘Family life’ is described as a struggle between having a successful career as top manager and a well-functioning
family life, especially for female top managers. Stereotypical perceptions of how the family life should be structured are articulated. The informants draw upon research during the interviews and
find it crucial to include research more when discussing women in top management. The informants find political efforts criticisable. The struggle of the voluntariness discourse and the regulation
discourse is present, since informants voice their opinions about quotas and maternity leave. ‘Our common problem’ is verbalized by informants being dissatisfied with the current state of the debate.
This core theme therefore consists of what the debate is not, but how the informants think the debate should be. The lack of and need of good role models is especially verbalized here.
Foucault’s theoretical contribution illustrates how actors have opportunities for empowerment by focusing on achieving influence and having a perception of power as something that is produced
and reproduced by everyone.
This paper covers how discourses about women in top management are constructed, which is illustrated by the five core themes. Foucault's power perception can possibly contribute to a more
proactive mindset for actors who want to climb the hierarchy in organisations. Lastly, the subject women in Danish top management raise different opinions and is therefore subject to discursive

EducationsMSc in Organisational Communication, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2019
Number of pages120