Change agents or defending the status quo?

Change agents or defending the status quo?

Gender, Work & Organization

How senior leaders frame workplace gender equality

Senior leaders are usually understood to be ideally positioned to drive the organizational changes needed to promote workplace gender equality. Yet seniority also influences leaders' values and attitudes, and how they interpret evidence of inequalities, determine organizational priorities, and design and implement remedies. This article examines leaders' perceptions of workplace gender equality using system justification theory to explain survey data from Australia's public sector. Multivariate analysis indicates that male and female leaders more positively rate the gender equality climate in their agencies, compared with lower-level staff, and that male leaders show most propensity to defend the status quo. Findings call into question the effectiveness of change strategies that rely on leadership and buy-in of those whose privilege is embedded in existing arrangements, and problematize dominant organizational approaches casting senior leaders as effective change agents for gender equality.

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