I recently read an article that I’m recommending to all of my colleagues and will adopt for my graduate seminar next year. It’s Robin Ely and Debra E. Meyerson’s “An Organizational Approach to Undoing Gender: The Unlikely Case of Offshore Oil Platforms.” It is methodologically exciting—they performed a case study of two offshore oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico (before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill) and analyzed case data of published work on men doing “dangerous” work (e.g., miners, wild land firefighters, military service). It is also theoretically provocative—they theorize that organizations can “disrupt conventional masculinity’s masculine elements” (page 5). Organizations, they conclude, have the capacity to change deeply rooted work cultures; namely, organizations can both “do” and “undo” gender at work. In their case, an organization initiative on one of the oil rigs designed to increase safety, had the unexpected effect of allowing men to “de-masculinize” their behaviors—to openly admit and share responsibility for mistakes, to work for the collective, to express their feelings, and reduce the typical need to express “toughness” common among men doing dangerous work. They actually found that the new organizational initiative reduced men’s need to compete or otherwise affirm their masculine credentials.
Undoing Gender …?