Women in the Steel Industry: Closed in Corners or Provided with Possibilities

Keywords: Organization & Management, Gender, Ethnicity, Age and Diversity


The steel industry has been one of the basic industries in both Sweden and Finland. It is in a process of change, where research and development play an increasingly prominent role. In Sweden in particular, there is also an ambition to increase the number of women in the industry. This study is based on interviews and workshops with 12 women working in researcher or managerial positions in the Swedish steel industry. Their experiences show that employing more women in the industry is not enough to make effective use of the female talent pool, nor to increase gender equality. Besides belonging to a gender minority, women often had different backgrounds and career paths from their male colleagues, and their organizations need to be able to recognize the value of untraditional characteristics. The organizational environment determined whether these women became just an improvement in gender statistics or real gains in the quest for competence.

Author Biography

Minna Salminen-Karlsson, Uppsala University

Assistant professor, Centre for Gender Research


Abrahamsson, L., Johansson, J. (2006). From grounded skills to sky qualifications: A study of workers creating and recreating qualifications, identity and gender at an underground iron ore mine in Sweden, Journal of Industrial Relations 48(5): 657–676. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022185606070110.

Acker, J. (1990). Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organization, Gender and Society 4(4): 139–58.

Alvesson, M. (1998). Gender relations and identity at work: A case study of masculinities and femininities in an advertising agency, Human Relations 51(8): 969–1005. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/001872679805100801.

Amis, J. M., Mair, J., & Munir, K. A. (2020). The organizational reproduction of inequal- ity, Academy of Management Annals 14(1): 195–230. doi: https://doi.org/10.5465/annals.2017.0033.

Andersson, E., & Lidestav, G. (2016). Creating alternative spaces and articulating needs: Challenging gendered notions of forestry and forest ownership through women’s networks, Forest Policy and Economics 67: 38–44. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.forpol.2016.03.014.

Andersson, R. (2018). The myth of Sweden’s success: A deconstructive reading of the discourses in gender mainstreaming texts, European Journal of Women’s Studies 25(4): 455–469. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1350506817743531.

Bacchi, Carol (2009). Analysing policy: What’s the Problem Represented to be? Frenchs For- est, N.S.W.: Pearson.

Bagilhole, B. M. & Dainty, A. R. J. & Neale, R. H. (2002). A woman engineer’s experiences of working on British construction sites, International Journal of Engineering Education 18(4): 422–429.

Baublyte, G., Korhonen, J., D’Amato, D., & Toppinen, A. (2019). ‘Being one of the boys’: Perspectives from female forest industry leaders on gender diversity and the future of Nordic forest-based bioeconomy, Scandinavian Journal of Forest Research 34(6): 521–528. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/02827581.2019.1598484.

Carvalho, I., Costa, C., Lykke, N., Torres, A. (2018). Agency, structures and women managers’ views of their careers in tourism. Women’s Studies International Forum 71:1–11. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.wsif.2018.08.010.

Demaiter, E. I., & Adams, T. L. (2009). ‘I really didn’t have any problems with the male-female thing until.’: Successful women’s experiences in IT organizations, Canadian Journal of Sociology 34(1): 31–54.

Derks, B., Ellemers, N., van Laar, C., & de Groot, K. (2011). Do sexist organizational cul- tures create the queen bee? British Journal of Social Psychology 50(3): 519–535. doi: https://doi.org/10.1348/014466610X525280.

Dwivedi, P., Joshi, A., & Misangyi, V. F. (2018). Gender-inclusive gatekeeping: How (mostly male) predecessors influence the success of female CEOs, Academy of Management Journal 61(2): 379–404. doi: https://doi.org/10.5465/amj.2015.1238.

Einarsdottir, U. D., Christiansen, T. H., & Kristjansdottir, E. S. (2018). ‘It’s a man who runs the show’: How women middle-managers experience their professional position, opportunities, and barriers, SAGE Open 8(1): 215824401775398. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244017753989.

Ely, R., & Padavic, I. (2007). A feminist analysis of organizational research on sex differences, The Academy of Management Review 32(4): 1121–1143. doi: https://doi.org/10.5465/AMR.2007.26585842.

Faulkner, W. (2009a). Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. I. Observations from the field, Engineering Studies 1(1): 3–18. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/19378620902721322.

Faulkner, W. (2009b). Doing gender in engineering workplace cultures. II. Gender in/authenticity and the in/visibility paradox, Engineering Studies 1(3): 169–189. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/19378620903225059.

Fletcher, J. K. (1999). Disappearing Acts. Gender, Power, and Relational Practice at Work, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Glass, C., & Cook, A. (2018). Do women leaders promote positive change? Analyzing the effect of gender on business practices and diversity initiatives: Women leaders, Human Resource Management 57(4): 823–837. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/hrm.21838.

Halford, S. & Leonard, P. (2001). Gender, Power and Organisations. An Introduction, Basingstoke: Palgrave.

Harman, C., & Sealy, R. (2017). Opt-in or opt-out: Exploring how women construe their ambition at early career stages, Career Development International 22(4): 372–398. doi: https://doi.org/10.1108/CDI-08-2016-0137.

Hatmaker, D. M. (2013). Engineering identity: Gender and professional identity negotiation among women engineers, Gender, Work & Organization 20(4): 382–396. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2012.00589.x

Holgersson, C., & Romani, L. (2020). Tokenism revisited: When organizational culture challenges masculine norms, the experience of token is transformed, European Management Review, doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/emre.12385.

Holt, A. (2010). Using the telephone for narrative interviewing: A research note, Qualitative Research 10(1): 113–121. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/1468794109348686.

Husu, Liisa (2005). Dold könsdiskriminering på akademiska arenor. Osynligt, synligt, subtilt, Stockholm: Högskoleverket. [Hidden gender discrimination on academic arenas. Invisible, visible, subtle.].

Johansson, M.,& Ringblom, L. (2017). The business case of gender equality in Swedish forestry and mining – restricting or enabling organizational change, Gender, Work & Organization 24(6): 628–642. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12187.

Johansson, K., Andersson, E., Johansson, M., & Lidestav, G. (2019). Conditioned openings and restraints: The meaning‐making of women professionals breaking into the male‐dominated sector of forestry, Gender, Work & Organization. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12403.

Joshi, A. (2014). By whom and when is women’s expertise recognized? The interactive effects of gender and education in science and engineering teams, Administrative Science Quarterly 59(2): 202–239.

Kanter, R. M. (1977). Men and Women of the Corporation, New York: Basic books.

Kark, R., Waismel-Manor, R., & Shamir, B. (2012). Does valuing androgyny and femininity lead to a female advantage? the relationship between gender-role, transformational leadership and identification, The Leadership Quarterly 23(3): 620–640. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.leaqua.2011.12.012.

Khilji, S. E., & Pumroy, K. H. (2019). We are strong and we are resilient: Career experiences of women engineers, Gender, Work & Organization 26(7): 1032–1052. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/gwao.12322.

Kvande, E. (1999). In the belly of the beast: Constructing femininities in engineering organizations, European Journal of Women’s Studies 6(3): 305–328. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/135050689900600304.

Lewis, P., & Simpson, R. (2012). Kanter revisited: Gender, power and (in)visibility, International Journal of Management Reviews 14(2): 141–158. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-2370.2011.00327.x.

Martinsson, L., Griffin, G. & Giritli Nygren, K. (eds.) (2017). Challenging the Myth of Gender Equality in Sweden, Bristol: Policy Press.

Miller, Gloria E. (2004). Frontier masculinity in the oil industry: The experience of women engineers, Gender, Work and Organization 11(1): 47–73.

Muhr, S. L. (2011). Caught in the gendered machine: On the masculine and feminine in cyborg leadership, Gender, Work & Organization 18(3): 337–357. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2010.00529.x.

Powell, A., Bagilhole, B., & Dainty, A. (2009). How women engineers do and undo gender: Consequences for gender equality, Gender, Work & Organization 16(4): 411–428. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-0432.2008.00406.x.

Powell, G. N., & Butterfield, D. A. (2013). Sex, gender, and aspirations to top management: Who’s opting out? who’s opting in? Journal of Vocational Behavior 82(1): 30–36. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jvb.2012.11.003.

Reskin, Barbara F. & McBrier, Debra B. (2000). Why not ascription? Organizations’ employment of male and female managers, American Sociological Review 65(2): 210–233.

Ridgeway, C. L., & Smith-Lovin, L. (1999). The gender system and interaction, Annual Review of Sociology 25(1): 191–216. doi: https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev.soc.25.1.191.

Rudman, L. A., Moss-Racusin, C. A., Phelan, J. E., & Nauts, S. (2012). Status incongruity and backlash effects: Defending the gender hierarchy motivates prejudice against female leaders, Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 48(1): 165–179. doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jesp.2011.10.008.

SCB, Statistics Sweden (2019). Allt färre jobbar inom stålindustrin. [Fewer and fewer people work in steel industry]. https://www.scb.se/hitta-statistik/artiklar/2019/allt-farre-job-bar-inom-stalindustrin/ [Accessed April 15, 2020].

Seron, C., Silbey, S., Cech, E., & Rubineau, B. (2018). ‘I am not a feminist, but ...’: Hegemony of a meritocratic ideology and the limits of critique among women in engineering, Work and Occupations 45(2): 131–167. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0730888418759774.

Stanley, L. (1992). The Auto/Biographical I, The Theory and Practice of Feminist Auto/Biog- raphy, Manchester: Manchester University Press.

Stenbacka, S., Grubbström, A., Forsberg, G. (2018). Gendered youth strategies for inclusion in a changing society: Breaking or reproducing the local gender contract? Area 50(4): 520–528. doi: https://doi.org/10.1111/area.12392.

Watkins, M. B., Simmons, A., Umphress, E. (2019). It’s not black and white: toward a contingency perspective on the consequences of being a token, Academy of Management Perspectives 33(3): 334–365. doi: https://doi.org/10.5465/amp.2015.0154.

Watts, J. H. (2007). Porn, pride and pessimism: Experiences of women working in profes- sional construction roles, Work, Employment & Society 21(2): 299–316. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/0950017007076641.

How to Cite
Salminen-Karlsson, M. (2020). Women in the Steel Industry: Closed in Corners or Provided with Possibilities. Nordic Journal of Working Life Studies. https://doi.org/10.18291/njwls.122189