Insights and Research on the Study of Gender and Intersectionality in International Airline Cultures

Cover of Insights and Research on the Study of Gender and Intersectionality in International Airline Cultures


Table of contents

(26 chapters)

Section I Introduction: The Gendering of Organizational Culture Over Time


Gender concerns have been almost totally ignored within organizational analysis. This chapter attempts to redress that ignorance. It has four related tasks: (1) to illustrate examples of gender-blind approaches to the study of organizations; (2) by way of a selective review of the organizations and culture debate, to argue for the utility of an organizational culture focus for an understanding of gender; (3) to root an organizational culture focus, along with gender concerns, within a feminist materialist method of analysis; (4) to explore, by way of a strategic application of Clegg’s (1981) “rule” focus, the potential of a feminist materialist analysis for understanding the relationship between gender and organizational culture.

Section II Mapping Out Culture and Gendering Over Time


This chapter reports on the first stage of a major study of the gendering of British Airways (BA). Arguing, that to address sexual discrimination we need to analyze the interactions between social and organizational discourses over time, a study is made of the founding years (1919–1924) of BA.


Beginning with the premise that “organizational culture” is a useful heuristic for the study of gender at work, this chapter focuses on the problem of studying the culture of organizations over time, setting out to demonstrate how the social construction of corporate history has, until now, lent itself to gendered notions of business practices. Arguing that history itself is but one of a series of discourses about the world, the chapter outlines a feminist strategy for the study of organizational culture over time that includes: (i) feminist historiography as history written from a feminist point of view; (ii) a commitment to the notion of history as discourse rooted in the present; (iii) a view of women’s rights development as a paradoxical process of progress and regress; (iv) a gender focus approach that studies the impact of discrimination on the social construction of masculinity/femininity and sexual preference; and (v) an approach that is sensitive to the contextualization of gender. British Airways is used as a case study to illustrate some of the problems of historic re/construction and feminist historiography.

Section III Researching the Past


Through the use of critical hermeneutics, the chapter provides a deep analysis and offers clues as to how management, through the power of communication, can contribute to producing and reproducing embedded gender-based assumptions and values through organizational culture, which can both enable and constrain organizational members. It examines gender discrimination as it relates to employment equity in a well-known airline. We show how an organizational culture, supported by society and communicated through language, can impede progress within an organization through the power of language, and highlight a number of clues as to the processes of gender discrimination at work.


In this chapter we explore the relationship between current gendered practices and past conditions through the lens of actor-network theory (ANT). In particular we are interested in the viability of ANT as a lens for studying the past and in ways that can be reconciled with feminist thought. We argue that although there is some nonresonance between ANT and feminist theorizing, using ANT in a critically historicist way allows some of the barriers between ANT and feminism to be broken down. We synthesize an approach to study gendered organizational processes that exist in and over time, identifying and surfacing some of the actants (i.e., human and material factors that encourage people to act) that work together within networks to produce gendered effects such as ongoing discriminatory practices. We trace these effects using the history of Air Canada as an exemplar, in the process noting the conceptual and ontological differences between the past and history. Finally, the advantages of a critically historical ANT are discussed as a way to achieve a level of fusion between ANT and feminist thought.

Section IV Gendering Over Time


This chapter sets out to examine the role of masculinity in the development of a gendered organizational culture over time. The development of images of masculinity within one company—British Airways—is examined through content analysis of company newsletters, advertising copy, annual reports, internal memoranda, and written rules and regulations. Exploring the notion of “multiple masculinities,” the chapter traces the prominent forms of masculinity that emerged in British Airways and assesses their impact on the ways that organizational practices were developed, maintained, and understood. Four key corporate images of masculinity are examined—the pilot, the steward, the engineer, and the “native boy”—and it is argued that those images contributed to the exclusion of women and people of color from those occupations by laying down cultural rules about the ideal typical characteristics of the job holder. The chapter concludes by raising questions about the value of a multiple masculinities focus in explaining changing and contradictory practices of discrimination; the primacy of extra-organizational over organizational practices; and the relationship between multiple masculinities and hegemonic masculinity. Further research is suggested into the extent to which hegemonic masculinity is undermined, over time, by changing and contradictory forms of masculinity within definite sites of gender construction.


In recent years, inspired by poststructuralist theory, the study of “sex discrimination” has moved from universalistic to con(textual) analysis. Alvesson and Due Billing (1997), for example, argue for analysis of localized constructions and understandings of masculinity and femininity, and Collinson and Hearn (1994, 1996) argue for a greater understanding of different forms of masculinity and the implications for discrimination. In this chapter, we explore the impact of local cultural rules on the social construction of gendered images in three different airlines—Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA), Pan American Airways (PAA), and the British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC). This comparative investigation reveals both differences and similarities across the airlines in the workplace practices that result in discriminatory outcomes for females. Using a rules approach (Helms Mills & Mills, 2000), this study explores the dynamic nature of localized, social phenomena that create, maintain, and unsettle gendered practices. It is through such an exploration that we interpret the notion of hegemonic masculinity and attempt to unravel the “truths” of unquestioned, mundane practices.


This chapter presents a feminist poststructuralist account of the role of men and masculinity in the development of Air Canada, specifically in its early years and the development of the organization’s culture. It is argued that an understanding of the development of gendered practices (i.e., the development of male associated or dominated work) over time can help us to understand and identify how such practices develop, are maintained, and also change.


Findings of an extensive archival study of Pan American Airways (PAA) strongly support Acker’s (1990) notion of the presence and importance of a dominant discourse of organizing logic in structuring a gendered order. Findings also demonstrate that the presence of alternative, but not necessarily feminist, discourses can serve to upset the gender order of organizations. Thus, we conclude that changing the organization’s gender substructure (Acker, 1992b) by changing the dominant discourse or introducing competing discourses may help to destabilize “truths” and interrupt the perpetuation and reification of policies, practices, and understandings that are often taken-for-granted despite their ability to silence voices and privilege some groups over others.


Purpose—The notion of organizations as gendered is not new, yet critical gaps in the understanding of the processes responsible for the creation and maintenance of these gendered organizations still exist. Within the existing breadth and depth of feminist organizational scholarship, an increasing number of researchers have been drawn to Joan Acker’s notion of the “gendered substructure” as one of the more promising frameworks for analysis of the gendering of organizations. In this chapter, the authors seek to develop an analysis of Acker’s gendered substructure through, and reflection on, its application.

Design/methodology/approach—Acker’s framework of gendering processes is explored through a case study of the gendering of a single organization over time—Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). The authors’ “reading” of the archival materials was informed by a combination of feminist poststructuralism, critical discourse analysis, and critical hermeneutics.

Findings—Through an exploration of the roots of Acker’s framework and its application to a case study of a single organization over time (Pan Am), the chapter contends that its greatest potential lies in examining the four process sets—division of labor, workplace culture, social interactions, and (self) reflection—through a fifth process of “organizational logic” that is seen as temporal and contextual. Drawing on poststructuralist feminist theory, it argues that organizational logic can be viewed through analyses of organizational, and organizationally based, discourses.

Originality/value—The chapter argues that the (widely recognized) heuristic value of Joan Acker’s “gendered substructure” has not been realized due to inconsistencies in its interpretation and application. This study engages Acker’s framework in its entirety, as gendering processes do not exist in silos and are likely more interdependent than typically credited. The chapter looks at the dynamics of, and between the five sets of, gendering processes.


Purpose—Joan Acker proposed her gendered theory of organization as a framework to analyze organizations and to understand how gender underlies organizational structure in such a way as to subordinate women. Much of the previous work that has utilized this framework has examined highly (male-) gendered organizations. This archival case study aims to use Acker’s framework to examine a purportedly female-gendered organization—the 1970s feminist organization, Stewardesses for Women’s Rights (SFWR).

Design/methodology/approach—Using these archived materials, this chapter uses a critical hermeneutic approach across Acker’s framework of gendered organization to make sense of the rise and fall of SFWR. The chapter discusses lessons learned from this short-lived organization.

Findings—The chapter finds that societal pressure and organizing women’s understanding of what is “real” and valued in an organization pushed them to create an organization that was as highly (male-) gendered as the organizations from which they were escaping. Many in the organization never saw SFWR as a “real” organization because of the underlying organizational logic that was directing what the organization should be. Even if the organization did, on the surface, look different than other explicitly male-gendered organizations, the same underlying organizational logic manifested itself in similar organizational structure.

Originality/value—This archival case study uses Acker’s framework to examine a purportedly female-gendered organization—the 1970s feminist organization SFWR and reveals lessons learned.

Section V Toward Intersectionality in Time


This chapter examines the role of corporate image-making in the everyday life of organizations and its contribution to the mundane reproduction of discrimination. With British Airways as an example, it is argued that images found in corporate materials reflect the organization’s construction of “male” and “female,” “white” and “non-white,” in distinct ways. Further, these images have profound consequences for the ways in which employees visualize themselves, their colleagues and their subordinates. This chapter also shows how organizational images can restrict diversity by identifying certain organizational roles and positions with specific demographic characteristics. It is suggested that (a) these various images have sanctioned and encouraged certain types of “male”/female,” “white”/“nonwhite” behavior, and implicitly prohibited others and (b) these images can be linked to the exclusion of women and people of color from positions of power, authority, and prestige within the airline industry.


Purpose—Through a case study of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), this chapter sets out to explore the roots of 20th century globalization and the postcolonial nature of the trading relations involved.

Design/methodology/approach—Drawing on Foucault’s broad notion of “the archive” a critical hermeneutics approach is used to examine a series of company-produced texts, including minutes, travelogues, company narratives, annual reports, film, diaries, and published histories.

Findings—The chapter argues that Pan Am contributed to the “idea of Latin America” and, in the process contributed to practices of dependency that served the interests of the United States. Drawing on a case study of Pan Am, the chapter further argues that multi-national corporations help to establish the contours of international trade by influencing the very character and boundaries of the territories traded in, with troubling implications for the countries traded in.

Research limitations/implications—As a detailed case study extension of the findings to other global trading arrangements needs to take into account to social-political context and relational histories of the players involved.

Practical implications—The chapter generates insights into the role of rhetoric in developing trading relationships and its roots in embedded notions of postcolonial thinking and generalizations.

Originality/value—The chapter contributes to an understanding of the role of language and the social construction of national identities involved in the development of international business.

Section VI Lessons Learned

Cover of Insights and Research on the Study of Gender and Intersectionality in International Airline Cultures
Publication date