Women represent nearly half of New Zealand’s workforce, making it likely that a
woman will, at some stage during her working life, have a woman manager. She may
also manage women employees. However, despite this likelihood, very little is known
about the nature of women’s hierarchical workplace relationships and even less about
the impact these relationships have on women’s careers. This research used narrative
inquiry, relational cultural theory and the Kaleidoscope Career Model (KCM) to explore
the relational experiences of 15 New Zealand women and the impact of these
hierarchical relationships on career decisions. It was undertaken in two phases.
Phase One used a combination of creative methods and semi-structured interviews to
explore the participants’ experiences. Phase Two brought the participants together in
workshops to develop personal and organisational strategies aimed at strengthening
Phase One found that most of the participants had experienced a negative relationship
with a women manager and/or employee. Many of those participants subsequently left
the organisation they worked for as a direct or indirect result of that relationship.
Conversely, nearly half of the participants spoke of a positive relationship and while
these were beneficial, they were not linked to a subsequent career decision. These
findings suggest that negative relationships affect a woman’s career decisions to a
greater extent than positive relationships. The research also extends the KCM by
adding the impact of women’s hierarchical relationships to the career parameters of
balance and challenge.
Phase Two delved further into these findings to determine that women have genderbased
expectations of women managers, such as an expectation of a higher degree of
emotional understanding and support from a woman manager than would be expected
from a man. In addition, while the participants look to women managers for some form
of career support, most were not striving for senior management positions. They were
instead motivated by a desire to make a difference and live a balanced life, with the
demands of senior organisational roles seen as being in conflict with their relationships
and family responsibilities. This raises a dilemma from a gender equity perspective,
with research suggesting that a critical mass of women at the senior leadership level
reduces the gender pay gap and increases the promotional opportunities of women at
all organisational levels.
Phase Two identified a number of personal and organisational strategies to better
support women’s hierarchical relationships, as one way of enhancing women’s careers.
Taking a relational approach, an holistic gendered framework is proposed that situates
relationships within the broader personal, organisational, societal and temporal context.
Strategies are recommended to enhance personal and organisational relational
awareness and acceptance, development of relational skills and support, as well as
structural change to better align career paths to senior management with women’s
career aspirations and realities. In doing so, this thesis aims to progress the
discussion on the ways in which organisations and women can better support each
other to promote workplace gender equity.
Listed in 2017 Dean's List of Exceptional Theses