Diversity and difference in communication
Diversity and difference in communication

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Diversity and difference in communication

4.5 Gender and power

Feminist writers have documented the ways in which inequalities based on gender are reflected and reproduced in health and social care services. Although the majority of workers in care services are women, men are over-represented in management and in positions of authority, and male-dominated professions, such as medicine, tend to exert more power than those, such as nursing, in which women are the majority. For example, whereas women make up 75% of the workforce in the NHS (Doyal, 1999), the bulk of decision-making power resides with the medical profession and senior management where women are vastly under-represented. Women tend to fill most of the lower-paid and lower-status roles in care services and women are the majority of unpaid carers.

What are the implications of these structural inequalities in terms of interpersonal communication? The under-representation of women in management, and in high-status professional groups, can mean women are routinely excluded from discussions in which decisions are made and policies formulated. However, even where women are represented, gendered power may operate in less direct and obvious ways. You may recall the course tester in Activity 13 who mentioned the male manager who excluded women's voices from discussions in meetings. Even where women are well represented in a meeting or workplace, they may think their voices carry less weight or influence than the men's. Men may use their organisational power, either consciously or unwittingly, to silence or bypass women's voices. At an organisational level, certain kinds of discourse – ways of thinking and talking about issues – may be privileged over others. Female staff may have a sense that certain kinds of ‘masculine’ discourse have greater power and influence in the organisation than ways of talking and thinking that are perceived to be more ‘feminine’. This is a difficult subject to broach without making sweeping (and essentialist) generalisations about men's and women's styles of communication. Later in this section we shall address the question of whether men and women actually do tend to communicate in different ways, and how to account for these apparent differences.

The next activity gives you the opportunity to reflect on the ways in which gendered power operates in a workplace familiar to you.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371