Women working for the church: a study of gender, career and organisation in Catholic education

Day, Catherine Mary (2001) Women working for the church: a study of gender, career and organisation in Catholic education. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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This thesis presents a study of gender, career and organisation. Within this broad research focus, these concepts are examined and contextualised through a case study of a Catholic education organisation focussing on an analysis of the factors contributing to the construction of career outlook for women educators. Career outlook and organisational change are closely aligned. There are several elements of the case study that the research emphasises because they constitute a career outlook that is unique to the particular organisation. These include the career processes and structures, the discursive arrangements which permeate organisational thinking and practice and the day-to-day interactions of individuals in various positions which have accrued differential power and status and without whom organisation would not be possible. The study adopts qualitative methodology within a feminist framework. Feminist perspectives on organisation and careers are utilised in the case study bringing into prominence issues of structure and agency. The research pays particular attention to the organisational career context and the ways gender imbues career processes and practices. This is in contrast to a study of the personal subjective career. The research considers questions of power as women resist and/or accommodate the organisational career context. Gaps, silences and contradictions are exposed in the career context as this applies to women.

Studying the organisational career context reveals the contributive beliefs and values of Catholic education, which shape work and organisational cultures and create particular understandings of the relationship between the individual and the organisation. The concept of culture is characterised by a set of meanings, ideas and symbols that are shared by the members of the organisation and that have evolved over time. Organisational cultures have been shaped by the religious, socio-political and economic influences of the society (Alvesson, 1996). The culture of the organisation is underpinned by the discursive structures peculiar to the organisation. This discursive structure includes rites and material expressions of culture and language and it reflects and actively constructs gendered meanings. Within the gendered organisational culture, social relations are structured and understood through a prism of gender relations. Forms of masculinity and femininity are inscribed in the organisational career. Consequently, the positions of men and women in the organisation are highly ritualised. Assumptions of masculinity and femininity make sense of the conflicts, interests and inequalities that are integral to women and their careers.

Gender is understood as the socially organised construction of knowledge, individually and collectively learned, relating to understandings of masculinities and femininities (Connell, 1987; Oakley & Mitchell, 1997). It is distinguished from the concept 'sex' because the content of masculinity and femininity does not have an immediate biological foundation, despite the fact that gender defines what it means to be a male or a female in a social sense. This research, however, is not directed at the gender roles and identities of women although these constructs are not entirely neglected. Rather, it utilises a gender perspective on organisations paying attention to organisational cultures. These cultures influence the construction of teaching and administration as gendered and oppositional occupational roles. In addition they influence the nature of the workplace and the conditions within which a teacher finds herself employed.

Because the case study site is a Catholic education organisation, the religious dimension of this organisation presents an important area for analysis. It promotes particular constructions of masculinities and femininities which define preferred identities for women and men. As a feminist critique, the study analyses the way women in Catholic education see their career needs and aspirations being integrated within the organisational framework. The research is located within an Australian context and reveals the patriarchal and androcentric biases on which the Catholic religious tradition (the Roman Catholic tradition) and Catholic education has largely been based. Women resist and accommodate such biases as they make particular career choices within the opportunities and constraints of the organisational career context. By focussing on the construction of career outlook, consideration is given to opportunities and barriers for career progression available and accessible to women. The perceptions held by individuals in regard to career outlook within an organisation are circumscribed by their personal constructions of what constitutes a career. Such perceptions are formed through daily experiences in families, communities and a range of workplaces; experiences that reflect gender divisions in society (Acker, 1994). A focus on the organisational career context for teachers, however, brings into prominence structural contingencies consisting of patterns of policies, everyday practices and a symbolic order that affect a teacher's professional obligations and opportunities. It does not assume, however, that all women teachers are fitted for the role or that they should remain within the teaching career. Catholic education presents an organisational context that is embedded within the religious tradition of the Catholic Church. This context creates a unique structural and theological orientation for the case study.

Item ID: 23264
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Australia, career development, career opportunities, career outlook, Catholic education, feminism, gender differences, organizational culture, teaching careers, teachers, women
Additional Information:

Catherine Day received a JCU Outstanding Alumni Award in 2011.

Date Deposited: 02 Sep 2012 22:42
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130308 Gender, Sexuality and Education @ 50%
13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130304 Educational Administration, Management and Leadership @ 50%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9304 School/Institution > 930401 Management and Leadership of Schools/Institutions @ 30%
93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9305 Education and Training Systems > 930501 Education and Training Systems Policies and Development @ 30%
97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970113 Expanding Knowledge in Education @ 40%
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