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Daum, M. Gollini, S. (2008). Women in a World of Men: The Transformation of Gender Dynamics Through the Recovering of Identities. Organ. Soc. Dyn., 8(2):194-215.

(2008). Organizational and Social Dynamics, 8(2):194-215

Women in a World of Men: The Transformation of Gender Dynamics Through the Recovering of Identities

Matthieu Daum and Silvia Gollini

This paper is based on a consultancy project for a multi-national company. Conscious that an abnormally low number of women reaches senior management positions, this company commissioned the authors to design and run a training programme on career development for talented young women.

While the work contracted was not framed psychodynamically, a group relations' framework was used to understand and work with the processes at work in the request, design, and implementation of the training. In particular, it helped the authors to accompany the organization through its difficulties in bridging the gap between intention and implementation, thus truly engaging with cultural transformation.

The stream running throughout the work, and this paper, is the question: is diversity a resource? A difficult question, which certainly challenged programme participants and highlighted the risks generated by the identification of differences; in particular, the unleashing of paranoid-schizoid anxieties for women whose success so far has often relied on playing down or denying parts of who they are as women.

So, while the recovering of one's identity/identities was central to the development of one's career, it also inescapably opened up the feelings associated with the experience of being women in a man's world. The ambivalence between connecting to that experience and feeding the illusion that career development could be a genderless matter gave the work its tempo.

This paper will draw on current literature on diversity in the workplace, as well as psychodynamic and group relations' literature on organizational development. It will also draw on the authors' countertransference, processed through group relations' thinking, and understood as data on what may be going on organizationally. The key points covered in this paper will be:

ο    ‘alter-phagia’: from desire for the other to desire to eat the other;

ο    the visceral threat generated by allowing women to be together;

ο    A man's world: the use of the colonization-decolonization analogy to explore gender dynamics;

ο    Individual, group, and organizational shame, and the processes to defend against it;

ο    The recovery of the Feminine: journey towards an unchartered future.

It is hoped that this paper will provide a useful illustration of how these issues can be worked with in organizations, as well as open up new ways of conceptualizing certain aspects of cultural transformation.

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