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Understanding, ownership or resistance: Explaining persistent gender inequality in public services
journal contributionposted on 07.06.2021, 04:17 by Linda Colley, Sue Williamson, Meraiah Foley
Gender inequality persists in the public services in many OECD countries, despite decades of policy and strategic initiatives designed to promote greater equality. Resistance to gender equality, characterised by opposition to change or support for the status quo, has emerged as one potential explanation for the disconnection between policies and outcomes. This article explores whether concepts of resistance assist to explain slow progress towards gender equality in our study of four Australian public sector jurisdictions, where we asked middle managers about their understanding of, and action towards gender equality. We found that managers were committed to gender equality and held a general understanding of their jurisdiction’s gender equality policies, but lacked a deeper understanding of how organisations and human resource practice are gendered, which impeded translating commitment into action. This resulted in various levels of resistance and an unwillingness or inability to operationalise policies and strategies. This indicates that public services have progressed from identifying the problem to not knowing how to operationalise solutions. Our research contributes to the resistance literature, showing the existence of the various forms of gender equality resistance, which can impede action. A further contribution is that our research did not find differences between the approaches of male and female managers in gender-balanced organisations, with both equally aware of the policies but demonstrating similar levels and types of resistance.