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Champions of gender equality: female and male executives as leaders of gender change

Jennifer Anne de Vries (Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Australia)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 9 February 2015




The purpose of this paper is to examine male and female executives as leaders “championing” gender change interventions. It problematizes current exhortations for male leaders to lead gender change, much as they might lead any other business-driven change agenda. It argues that organizational gender scholarship is critical to understanding the gendered nature of championing.


This paper draws on a feminist qualitative research project examining the efficacy of a gender intervention in a university and a policing institution. Interviews with four leaders have been chosen from the larger study for analysis against the backdrop of material from interviewees and the participant observation of the researcher. It brings a social constructionist view of gender and Acker’s gendering processes to bear on understanding organizational gender change.


The sex/gender of the leader is inescapably fore-fronted by the gender change intervention. Gendered expectations and choices positioned men as powerful and effective champions while undermining the effectiveness of the woman in this study.

Research limitations/implications

Further research examining male and female leaders capacity to champion gender change is required.

Practical implications

This research identifies effective champion behaviors, provides suggestions for ensuring that gender equity interventions are well championed and proposes a partnership model where senior men and women play complementary roles leading gender change.


This paper is of value to practitioners and scholars. It draws attention to contemporary issues of leadership and gender change, seeking to bridge the gap between theory and practice that undermines our change efforts.



This research was undertaken as part of the author’s doctoral research and was supported by a UWA Postgraduate Award Scholarship.


de Vries, J.A. (2015), "Champions of gender equality: female and male executives as leaders of gender change", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 34 No. 1, pp. 21-36.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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