Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work

Disappearing Acts: Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work

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"Here is something truly new. This book can change our understanding of what work is and how it can be best done. It offers both a profound vision and clear practical applications." -- Jean Baker Miller, Director, Jean Baker Miller Training Institute, Stone Center, Wellesley College

With its move from hierarchical to team-based structures and its dismantling of functional barriers, the organization of the future is touted as a radical departure from traditional models. The worker of the future, we are told, must be a collaborative team player, able to give and receive help, empower others, and operate in a world of interdependence. This new worker needs relational skills and emotional intelligence--the ability to work effectively with others and understand the emotional context in which work takes place. Paradoxically, the very skills that give organizations a competitive advantage may be precisely those that prevent individual employees--especially women--from advancing.

In this book Joyce K. Fletcher presents a study of female design engineers that has profound implications for attempts to change organizational culture. Her research shows that emotional intelligence and relational behavior often "get disappeared" in practice, not because they are ineffective but because they are associated with the feminine or softer side of work. Even when they are in line with stated goals, these behaviors are viewed as inappropriate to the workplace because they collide with powerful, gender-linked images ofgood workers and successful organizations. Fletcher describes how this collision of gender and power "disappears" the very behavior that organizations say they need and undermines the possibility of radical change. She shows why the "female advantage" does not seem to be advantaging females or organizations. Finally, she suggests ways that individuals and organizations can make visible the invisible work--and people--critical to organizational competence and transformation.