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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

What Does Psychoanalytic Theory and Application Have to Offer the Women of Workforce 2000?

Psychoanalysts and psychoanalytically-oriented organizational practitioners have made considerable progress over the last four decades in the exploration and interpretation of organizational behavior. Theory, research, and application have been quite illuminating, particularly in the areas of management, leadership, personality, and group dynamics. However, not surprisingly, most of what has been learned about organizations has come from the study of men and their work in male-dominated institutions.''Exploration of the experience and meaning of professional work for women has only received serious consideration in the last fifteen years and has been researched largely from social and organizational psychology and management theory perspectives. There are many obvious reasons for the present lack of psychoanalytic contribution. First, psychoanalysts traditional and feminist, have not as of yet, been able to integrate and communicate a more or less unified theory of female psychology. Second, women's place in the field of work has only recently changed from being almost exclusively in support of and subordinate to men. Third, the giants in the field of applied organizational psychoanalysis have been almost exclusively male and, understandably, they have focused on what the marketplace required and what they knew best - the world of men and their work.''The situations and circumstances impacting women in male-dominated, glass ceiling-intact companies have been well-documented particularly by organizational and management theorists such as Kanter, Jardim, and Morrison. Likewise, the internal conflicts that women experience regarding work and issues of gender have been explored in challenging and provocative ways by a number of psychodynamic and psychoanalytic theorists such as Person, Applegarth, Stiver, and Baker Miller. The scope that psychoanalytic observations and interpretations can bring are clearly absent from otherwise enlightened and provocative theories and interventions such as Kanter's and this limits the potential of their application. An integration of these perspectives promises a deeper understanding of the issues involving women and their work.''This paper reviews the themes and issues resulting from a variety of consulting projects to businesses and women's organizations and coaching to teams and individuals. The client base is drawn largely from male-dominated industries of finance and technology and individuals with few exceptions are white, well-educated senior level women and men.''The self-concept of senior level women in these fields suffers from the devaluation they experience in the workplace. They are usually not included in upper management, are under representative of the percentage of women in their departments, are paid less and given less critical roles than the men, even when they are promoted. The polarization of the sexes is extreme and the cultures are highly regressive and aggressive. The defensive responses of the women were examined as well as their development of unproductive work styles that collude unconsciously with the male agenda to control them and their career aspirations. Special focus centers on workplace threats to women''s desires for interconnectedness, activation of unconscious guilt, the threat to the ego ideal created by the tension between work and family, identification with the male aggressor, anger, and power.''The psychoanalytic perspective has much to offer the women of Workforce 2000-the women leaving Fortune companies to start their own corporations and small businesses and the women who stay and continue to try and crack the glass ceiling. More research and application must be forthcoming to meet this challenge. Overall, it is argued that the response to Freud's question 'What do women want?' has the same answer that he offered men regarding their happiness and well-being. They want 'to love and to work.' Furthermore, the gender conflict in organizations - the forced separation of that which is exclusively feminine from that which is exclusively masculine - was identified as an area ripe for psychoanalytic intervention.