chapter  3
26 Pages

Gender, Union Democracy and Leadership

WithGILL KIRTON, GERALDINE HEALY

Leaders and leadership are important in all organizations that function hierarchically and bureaucratically, even in democratic ones such as unions, where despite the importance of the rank and fi le, leadership still matters for democratic process and outcomes. In unions, democracy and leadership are intricately connected. Union leaders are often held responsible for the successes and failures of union activity including bargaining, negotiations, strikes and more. Further, public approval or disapproval for unions is also tied up with the performance and conduct of senior leaders who are often the visible face of the unions in the media. Union leadership, and by extension union democracy, is also highly gendered. In Chapter 2 (this volume) we outlined women’s share of union membership and leadership in the UK and the USA. The available data reveal that women’s representation in leadership has not kept pace with their increasing presence in unions leading many authors to be concerned about a gender democracy defi cit in unions. In this chapter we seek to understand the gendered nature of union democracy and leadership, paying attention to the structural and cultural barriers that stand in the way of women accessing leadership positions and also exploring how such barriers might be tackled. To understand union leadership, fi rst we need to understand democracy and it is to this that we turn fi rst.