Learning, compliance and gender in public management

John Fenwick, Janice McMillan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article offers a critical perspective on the ways in which the learning process in public organizations may be influenced by gender. The discussion considers the difference between the direct impact of gender differences on learning and the indirect influence of gender when mediated through other variables including structure, culture, hierarchy and status. Based on qualitative interviews with a group of public sector managers, the discussion finds no grounds for concluding that learning in their organizations is directly gendered, in the sense of being systematically defined or structured specifically in relation to gender. However, there were powerful indications that gender may work alongside other factors — particularly culture and hierarchy — in shaping the patterns of learning within public sector organizations. The variables of hierarchy, status, culture, power and personal networks impact significantly on how learning takes place and upon what is learned, and the importance of gender lies in its complex relationship with these and other factors. The discussion as a whole is framed with reference to the prescriptive agenda of public sector `modernization' and it is suggested that such compliance may not be conducive to learning in public organizations. Indeed, it may undermine genuine organizational development and impact negatively upon the ethos of public service.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)247-261
JournalPublic Policy and Administration
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2008


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