Business as Usual? : Doing gender equality in Swedish forestry work organisations

Abstract: The title of this thesis is Business as usual? Doing gender equality in Swedish forestry work organizations and while the latter part, the subtitle, is rather self-explanatory, the former part can be read in different ways. The aim of the thesis is to increase the understanding of the doing of gender equality in the male dominated work organizations of the Swedish forestry sector, and thereby contribute both theoretical and empirical understanding regarding how doing gender equality in the forestry sector relates both to notions of gender and notions of organizations. Forestry has traditionally been characterized by physically demanding, manual harvesting work, with practical and symbolic associations with men and certain forms of masculinity. The forestry sector still remains one of the most gender segregated labour forces in Sweden, all while gender equality has been addressed to some extent during the 2000s. The theoretical frame of reference of the present thesis is rooted in feminist organizational research and the doing gender framework. Based on a perspective of reality as socially constructed and by deploying a feminist participatory action research methodology, my analysis focuses on how complexities of meanings are ascribed to the actions and processes, that are framed as gender equality and I have qualitatively analysed empirical material, such as policy documents, interviews and written testimonies of sexual harassment, that explicate these aspects of doing gender equality in organizations. The thesis is built experiences from two different research- and development projects and consists of 5 articles and a synthetizing chapter.The results highlight how doing gender equality relates to notions of gender as well as notions of organization. In both Article I, where policies were studied and in Article II, that builds on interviews, women are in general constructed as the “other”, as people who lack (forestry) skills and competences and who are in need of help or as contributors of social and emotional competence. Men and masculine norms are mainly absent from the doing of gender equality in this material, just as notions of the organization. But, deploying a feminist participatory action research methodology can bring forward other perspectives on gender equality, as shown in Articles IV and V, such as the articulations of men and masculinities. Further, this thesis shows that gender equality is in general understood by the organizations studied as a process that regards gender, predominantly women, rather than the organization. Put differently, gender equality work in the forestry sector does not to any significant extent, affect what is perceived as the core activities in these organizations. However, the overarching depoliticized and degendered business case framing that mainly evades accounting for the role of the organization when doing gender equality, is disrupted by the testimonies of #slutavverkat explored in Article III. Here, the political dimension of gender equality is highlighted by stories of men’s behaviours (reprehended but at the same time sanctioned) in organizations that come at the expense of women’s rights to a workplace free from condescending comments, harassment and sexual violence. While previous research has pointed to the importance of gender awareness, and gender aware leadership, in organizations that wish to succeed with their gender equality work, this thesis suggests that there is also a need for “gendered organization awareness” in order to understand and discuss not only how gender is done in organizations but also how everyday organizational life, such as notions of competence, is done and how that in turn relates to gender and power. This underlines the need for organizations to make room for conflicts and politics and to let the otherwise marginalized voices contribute to more nuanced interpretations of gender equality.The title Business as usual? encompasses the starting points for the thesis work as well as the main findings. Read with an emphasis on business, the seemingly all-embracing business case rhetoric’s that encloses the official narratives of gender equality in the forestry sector are visualized, while emphasizing as usual denotes to the sectors resistance to do other than what it usually does. Read as the hole saying, business as usual, that title signals that gender equality work is done in ways that not interfere with forestry core activities, thus making gender equality work in the organizations side streamed or de-coupled. Yet, read with emphasis on the question mark, opens up for the subversive potential that nevertheless exists when more multifaceted ways of making sense of gender equality are articulated and as the findings suggests that there are ways to re-gender and re-politicize organizational gender equality work in the context of forestry work organizations.