Men and the Ideal Worker Image

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Men and the Ideal Worker Image

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Title: Men and the Ideal Worker Image
Author: Reid, Erin
Citation: Reid, Erin. 2012. Men and the Ideal Worker Image. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.
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Abstract: Current theories of workplace gender inequality hinge upon the widely-shared cultural image of an "ideal worker:" a fully-committed, male employee with no non-work responsibilities that constrain his availability for work. While women's difficulties in relation to this ideal are well-documented, men's experiences remain largely unexamined. Yet, several social changes, including the prevalence of dual-earner families and intensified fathering expectations place men's true lives at odds with this image, suggesting that the ideal worker image no longer easily explains workplace gender inequality. In this dissertation, I address these issues by conducting a qualitative field study of men working at a strategy consulting firm at which the ideal worker image was linked with success. Drawing on 115 interviews, performance data and archival data sources, I unpack three facets of men's relationship to the image: the effects of their wives' careers upon their work orientations, how they experience and respond to the image in the workplace, and how they interpret the possibility of successful deviance from the image. Overall, my results suggest that most men do not conform to the ideal worker image, and that for men, conformance is not necessarily required to be considered a valued member of the organization. These findings imply potentially destabilizing effects for the ideal worker image; yet the very ways in which men successfully stray from the image, and the stories consultants tell about those who stray and remain successful combine to reify the ideal worker image in the firm's culture. The results contribute to theories of gendered organizations, dual-career couples and gender identity.
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