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Department of Social Sciences

Work, Organisation, Gender

This research area focuses on the question of how the relationship between work and gender is interacting with current transformation processes in the economy and the world of work. Prognoses on the future of work – e.g. with regard to new forms of work, new forms of rationalisation, work organisation or the evaluation of work – are interwoven with potential starting points for a change in gender relations in the context of more gender justice.

A change can also be observed in workplace interactions. These are characterised by positive and negative forces that cause tension. The resulting relationships are changeable, negotiable and partly contradictory. The research area focuses on these tensions as well as on possibilities for action that enable a reflexive approach to current changes and go beyond the previous critique of gender relations in the workplace.

The research area also aims to bring together the research strands of the sociology of work, industrial and organisational sociology, as well as gender studies. In this context, gender relations are understood as an integral part of the analysis, evaluation and design of work and organisation. Without considering gender as a central social structuring and process category, neither an adequate understanding of the social organisation of work nor the development of options for action for more (gender-)equal work is possible. The aim is to generate empirically based knowledge that can provide a foundation for overcoming hierarchical gender constructions. In this respect, research here also has an emancipatory claim and creates starting points for the design of a socially sustainable working world.

Since the early 1980s, our researchers have been examining the integration of women into the labour market, their career development opportunities, and the mechanisms that hinder women’s career opportunities. Segregation of the labour market, challenges of reconciling work and family life to the detriment of working women, unequal income and career opportunities, different opportunities for women to participate compared to men in the context of reorganisation processes, characteristics of so-called women’s occupations, service work in the so-called women’s industries: research on these topics has shown contradictory results over the decades.

However, opportunities for women in the workplace have become more diverse. Qualified, permanent and lifelong employment has become a natural aspiration for women, the employment rate of women is higher than ever before, and women in leadership positions are no longer a rarity. At the same time, women work part-time and in low-paid jobs to a far greater extent than men. So while there is empirical evidence of a decline in the importance of gender differences, a closer look at labour market and occupational statistics shows that gender hierarchies persist in the world of work. And a look beyond the world of work into the world of unpaid work confirms that the social division of labour still leaves private care work largely to women.

Gender is thus still a structuring principle of society. There are still different expectations for men and women, with the well-known disadvantaging effects for women. Gender structures in the world of work have – in historical comparison – changed rapidly in some respects, but in other ways they prove to be very stable.

  • Which organisational processes point to an erosion and change, and which to a stabilisation or reproduction of gender inequality?
  • Where do limits become apparent, where do opportunities arise, and how can these processes be identified more precisely?
  • Where, how, by whom, why and under what conditions is gender made relevant in current developments, including the digitalisation of work, and are traditional dividing lines being broken down?
  • What explanatory potential does the category of gender offer with regard to the differentiation of gender relations and the possibilities for negotiation within gender groups?
  • How can gender relations, which are becoming more “flexible”, be adequately analysed both theoretically and empirically?
  • Can the current processes of change in companies be used to reduce gender-based disadvantages?
  • What possibilities can be identified for intervention in terms of reducing gender inequalities?

Research lines and thematic topics

Within the context of the “digitalisation, work and gender” topic, the main focus is on the question of what opportunities and risks arise in processes of digitalisation for women and men, as well as for a more gender-equal work. One hypothesis is that technologies of digitalisation and connectivity can reproduce inequalities between the genders if they are not actively counteracted when designing technology and work. Here, a closer look at informatics and technological sciences is illuminating. For example, in robot design, “biological construction achievements” are established in the sense that intelligence, health or success continue to be located in genes and brain structures, etc. These (re-)naturalisations and “rhetorics of the natural” contribute to the fact that gender as a structural category does not dissolve in techno-scientific practices, according to some informatics experts. Among other things, a new level of “programmed discrimination” can be observed. Since the 1990s, gender research has been working on revealing essential aspects of the construction of gender and technology. One example is the claim, still sometimes made, that women lack technological expertise. Preliminary results show that without the participation of women and without the aim of achieving equal opportunities, the current digitalisation processes will maintain gender-differentiated structures.

This research area addresses the opportunities and risks associated with introducing new gender equality policy instruments within organisations, for example in the course of the reform of universities. The interaction of societal and political initiatives and guidelines as well as organisational settings becomes apparent in this context. In the future, digitally supported monitoring processes and instruments will have additional gender-differentiating effects on the organisation of academic and administrative work at universities.

For a long time, the research area has been examining studies on work in female-dominated tertiary sectors, especially retail. Over the decades, the retail sector has been an example of how the deregulation and flexibilisation of employment has progressed, how the devaluation of professional qualifications has made it more difficult for women to fight for a qualified job, and how hierarchical gender relations have simultaneously become fluid and stabilised in other forms. Currently, the topic of respect in interactive service work is being pursued in this area.

New forms of employment and self-employment can be an important option for women’s careers in view of the current changes in labour market policy and the persisting gender-differentiated organisational structures. They offer the possibility of flexible and education-adequate professional participation for women. However, women still use this option significantly less often than men. The reasons for this are manifold and range from gender-differentiated motives to different structurally related start-up opportunities to stereotypical ideas about gender and entrepreneurship, which are effective not only within companies, but also in the regional entrepreneurial ecosystems and general social environment.

The topic of sovereignty over work time features prominently in today’s debates on the future of work. Working hours and work-time arrangements are influenced, among other things, by the increasing intensification of work and the quality of cooperation in the workplace. This is particularly true for discussions on lifelong work-time arrangements for the ups and downs of life. As a rule, restructuring in companies and administrations often results in staff cuts and work intensification, with consequences for the compatibility of work and family, and with consequences for a more self-determined work life. Especially in view of changes in the work world that are being driven by digitalisation, the topic is once again of increasing interest. Key aspects include the topics of “mobile working” and “working from home”.

Workplace atmosphere and social relationships in the workplace have become the subject of sociopolitical and workplace discussions more frequently in recent years. Surveys show the high importance that employees attribute to this aspect of work life. Often, the work atmosphere is top of the list when assessing one’s own work. Work atmosphere is difficult to define because it seems so self-evident. When we talk about the atmosphere at work, we are talking about how employees experience their working relationships with coworkers and superiors. They assess the conditions with regard to their expectations of fairness and solidarity. Fairness and solidarity also play a decisive role in the discourse on gender. It is therefore also important to ask what effects a good or bad work atmosphere has on women’s and men’s work and health.


Assessments of the relationship between gender and diversity offer cause for controversy. Diversity concepts come with the problem that parallel to the dissolution of gender-segregated and gender-hierarchical structures in companies, new divisions are also constantly emerging.  With a gender-sensitive perspective, diversity management could become a comprehensive corporate concept of economy and equal opportunity. The prerequisite is to recognize inhibiting and promoting factors, to gain interpretative power and to take advantage of the opportunities that arise in the design process. To this end, the points of reference of the diversity concept used must be clearly identified: What is the chosen approach aiming at? Does it carry equal opportunity within it? What is the guiding principle, what is the practice? Who defines the lines of difference? Who pursues which interests? Who wants to reap what benefits?

Gender stereotypes continue to play a decisive role in the construction of (disadvantaging) gender difference. They are not questioned in everyday actions and have an implicit and explicit influence on decisions and interactions. A gender-differentiated division of labor is based on a kind of (implicit) gender knowledge. This exists consciously or unconsciously in the minds of women and men. What is interesting is when it becomes significant. Even where gender differences are not or no longer recognizable in everyday work, gender knowledge is latently available as a (discriminatory) structuring principle. It can be "called up" and serves to construct difference and hierarchy in gender relations - associated with unequal opportunities. Stereotypical attributions can become effective, although it is clear that the attributions never apply to all women or men. Such gender knowledge resembles experiential knowledge, which contains the employees' certainty about what is expected of them and what they can expect.

The topic of reconciling gainful employment and care work - understood as a requirement for working people to care for themselves and others, to maintain their own ability to work, to raise the next generation and/or to care for relatives in need of care - also continues to be pursued in the research area, Whether as an expression of structural excessive demands on concrete working people, as a career obstacle for women as well as for men, as a demand for action on hitherto largely "care-forgetting" employment organizations, as well as a demand for action on labor (market), social, education and tax policy.

  • „RespectWork: Developing reciprocal respect in customer interactions to improve the quality of work and services” – a joint project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)
  • “Work and Gender in Current Research and Research Funding” – funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation
  • “The Future of Low-Skilled Work from a Gender Perspective”, within the framework of the topic area “Digitalisation of Work / Industry 4.0 at the Research Institute for Social Development (FGW)” – funded by the Ministry of Science of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia
  • “Digitalisation, work and gender relations based on the example of administrative work in the service sector and industry” – funded by the Hans Böckler Foundation
  • “Contradictory integration of women in service work” (sub-project within the framework of the joint project “e-Labour”) – funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)


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