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All at sea – gender and leadership in Britain’s Royal Navy (RN)

Michael Dunn (Defence Academy of the UK, Cranfield University, Shrivenham, UK)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 3 August 2015



This paper aims to investigate the relationship between leadership and gender in the UK’s Royal Navy (RN) to answer the research question “Do men and women lead in different ways?”.


The research collected factual data on personnel statistics and organisational structure in the RN. The primary research adopted a grounded theory approach using repertory grid and critical incident technique. The research design was to interview a snowball sample of 27 mid-ranking officers, equally split between men and women and drawn from the main branches in the RN.


There is a significant gender deficit in the RN officer cadre with no women senior-ranking RN officers currently in post. A model of RN leadership was developed from a content and statistical analysis of the primary data. This was broadly equivalent for both men and women, except in one regard: women are expected to manage the impact of their gender so that their self-presentation conforms to the prevailing androcentric norms. The analysis also identified the consequences of unreflective leadership for followers and developed the term “damagement” to conceptualise this.

Research limitations/implications

The small-scale research design precluded any generalisable findings, but further research, if confirmatory, should make a substantive contribution to both the theoretical field of gender and leadership, and the practice of leadership in the RN.

Practical implications

These would relate the practice of leadership in the RN. Given further confirmatory research, the findings should inform the leadership selection, training and evaluation processes operated by the RN. It should also influence the Ministry of Defence’s policy on the wider deployment of women in the armed services, when the issue is next reviewed.

Social implications

The research may have social implications for the wider acceptance of the valuable contribution that women can and should be making in the national armed services of the UK and beyond.


The research was primary. It has added value though both its contribution to the leadership and gender debate and also the conceptualisation of leadership in the armed services, particularly the RN. In addition, it developed a new concept, that of “damagement” that could be critical in the development of more effective leadership styles.



Dunn, M. (2015), "All at sea – gender and leadership in Britain’s Royal Navy (RN)", Gender in Management, Vol. 30 No. 6, pp. 434-456.



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