The feminization of the workplace

“The process of feminization at work : between differentiation, assimilation, and ‘exceeding kind’, Interview with Nicky Le Feuvre by Cécile Guillaume, in Sociologies practices, 2007/1

Malochet defines feminization as “the growth in the number of women in an activity identified as male, given the hegemony of the personal men within the organization, and/or “qualities” socially deemed to be necessary for the exercise. “((Malochet, ” The feminization of occupations and professions. When the sociology of work crosses genre “, Sociologies pratiques, 2007)) And thought, feminization must be considered primarily as a process.

The mechanisms of the entry of women into the former “bastions of men” are complex and need to be each time seized in the light of the issues specific to such or such a professional group in a particular socio-historic context. In terms of thinking about the process of feminization in the workplace, it is important to avoid three main pitfalls. Do not think exclusively under the sign of the ” debasement “, as Pierre Bourdieu in The male domination. The second pitfall is to assign to women entering trades, where they were historically low, almost magical powers of transformation of professional practices, or even of society as a whole. Finally, the third pitfall is to pass over in silence the issues of these processes in the light of a reconfiguration potential of the foundations, both material and intangible, from the sexual division of labor and therefore the social relation of gender in european societies today.

The feminization never intervenes in a stable and structured always to other phenomena of change, particularly in terms of demography, professional, through, crises of recruitment, or of the struggles around the demarcation of the borders between professional groups. The “specific effects” of the arrival of the women are difficult to disentangle from those of other structural transformations in progress. Therefore, it is necessary to start from the elements that have founded these occupations as ” masculine “, analysing the discourses and practices that have justified their composition exclusively male, and that resulted from self to the hegemony of men. In this article, Nicky Le Feuvre offers a typology of approaches to understanding the feminization of the professions.

First of all, the process of feminisation of professional groups often gives rise to interpretations that are essentialist. It continues to assign women to a whole series of “natural qualities” relatively immutable and it refers to arrival to a transformation of the “needs” of the groups for professionals in the field of human resources. This is what Nicky le Feuvre called the discourse of ” féminitude “. While remaining “what they have always been,” women can expect to integrate some niches specific professional, without altering the ethos of professional dominant, that continues to value men and masculine.

The speech of the ” virilitude “, recognizes to women the possibility of adopting social practices formerly reserved for men. It postulates that women who are in these trades have necessarily been socialized ” upside down “, since their presence, necessarily a minority, does, finally, nothing in the rules of the game of the recruitment and career management. This speech works well enough to give an account of the experiences of the ” pioneers “, but it becomes problematic as the increasing rate of feminization. In the case where women join groups of professionals on the basis of an assertion of their equivalence to men (” it is a true tom-boy ” ; ” it ” ; ” she knows how to scream as much as a guy “, etc), the standards of professional practice remain relatively unchanged. As a general rule, this is to stress the exceptionality of the women in question, to the place symbolically to the margins of the category ” woman “

A third discourse is based on the principle of immutability total of the “male dominance” as a social system. It suggests that the feminization of occupations reflects a recomposition of the professional hierarchy, and that women are only “allowed” to integrate the professions in the process of devaluation and/or the strata, the more devalued.

Finally, a fourth discourse, the ” transcending gender “, focuses on the reconfiguration potential of the foundation materials and the ideal of the system sex/gender. This approach, which is the one developed by Nicky Le Feuvre refuses to consider the feminization in terms of the previous categories, unfit as they are, to realize it. It offers another way of conceiving what could be the” gender equality ” in a future time, it allows you to reflect on the indicators empirical that should be mobilised to measure the effectiveness of public policies for the promotion of gender equality in the workplace.

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