Chapter | Women and Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change | 2007

Disrupting Gender, Revising Leadership

by D. E. Meyerson, R. Ely and Laura Wernick


In this chapter, we present a case study of men on two off-shore oil platforms—a workplace that has traditionally rewarded men for their masculine displays of bravado and their interactions centered on proving masculinity—in which such displays and interactions were notably absent. Although the company did not set out to change the traditional gendered patterns of roles, relations, and leadership, its self-conscious focus on increasing safety and effectiveness—which compelled workers to adopt a set of work practices that supported deep and ongoing learning—had the secondary consequence of disrupting and revising the hyper-masculine codes of behavior that were normal within the oil industry. We use this case to develop theory about how the operational and cultural conditions of an organization can disrupt conventional masculine interaction patterns and identity-construction processes by decoupling images of leadership/competence from idealized images of masculinity. We conclude that an organization's commitment to a set of work practices that are rooted in the real requirements of its work, rather than in stereotypical images of masculinity, may foster more effective leadership and may open leadership roles to women and to men who do not conform to stereotypical images of masculinity.

Keywords: Organizational Change and Adaptation; Safety; Leadership; Interpersonal Communication; Practice; Gender; Business Processes; Energy Industry;


Meyerson, D. E., R. Ely, and Laura Wernick. "Disrupting Gender, Revising Leadership." In Women and Leadership: The State of Play and Strategies for Change, edited by D. Rhode and B. Kellerman. Warren Bennis book. Jossey-Bass, 2007.