chapter  6
28 Pages

Tales from the Top—Senior Women Union Leaders

WithSALLY ALVAREZ, RISA LIEBERWITZ, GILL KIRTON

As stated in Chapter 3 (this volume), leadership is an underresearched aspect of union activity, particularly in the UK-based literature where scholars typically avoid great man theories that focus on the efforts and achievements of heroic individuals at the helm of their unions. Accordingly, there is unsurprisingly perhaps little written about the most senior union leaders and the emphasis instead is on rank-and-fi le activism and workplace/local leadership. Despite the fact that women are underrepresented at the uppermost levels of the union hierarchy (and even perhaps because of it-see Chapter 2, this volume), we believe there is considerable value in exploring the trajectories and experiences of the relatively few women who do make it to the top. We therefore developed case studies of ten women (fi ve from each country) who hold some of the most senior-level union leadership positions in order to explore the infl uences that led them to pursue a union career together with the infl uences on their leadership approaches. We also sought to understand how gender and national context impact on women’s high-level union leadership. This chapter presents case profi les of a sample of the most senior union women in the UK and the USA-they are at Level 3 of the typology of leadership levels outlined in Chapter 3 (this volume; see Figures 3.1 and 3.2). It then investigates their leadership philosophies and strategies exploring gender and leadership styles and the multiple challenges these women face. The chapter also explores the infl uence of political ideology and how it intersects with gender to shape the women’s leadership orientations and self-reported practices. First, there is a brief overview of aspects of gender and union leadership relevant to this discussion of toplevel female leaders.