Gender, Work & Organisation

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Doing gender in the ‘new office’

This paper investigates how gender is performed in the context of an office setting designed to promote intensive, fluid networking. We draw on an ethnographically oriented study of the move of staff into a new office building constructed primarily from glass, and incorporating open plan offices, diverse collective areas and walking routes. Although the designers aimed to invoke changes in the behaviour of all staff, they conceptualized these changes in masculine terms. We therefore analyse the gender norms materialized by the workspaces of the ‘new office’ and how women responded to these. We suggest that the new office encourages an image of the ideal worker which brings together ways of acting and interacting that have been characterized as both masculine and feminine — active movement and spontaneous encounters, but also intensive face‐to‐face interaction and deep relationship‐building. Women are driven into this mode of working in an uncompromising, almost aggressive way, but a straightforward gender‐based dynamic does not emerge in their responses, with conventional gender characteristics being reshuffled and recombined.

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