Institute of Managers and Leaders - Theaanna Kiaos Article

Re-posted from Institute of Managers and Leaders Blog

With International Women’s Day approaching, I was asked by the team at the Institute of Managers and Leaders to reflect on whether women need the cooperation of men to succeed. This is a surprisingly difficult question to answer. It is a subject that requires deep interpretation and certainly commands the antithesis of a black and white driven response. The many complexities and considerations this question seeks of us to resolve, warrants us to stop and think.

Challenge rhetorical questions

Perhaps the question is rhetoric in nature, devoid of needing a response because cooperation is considered an underlying assumption, a mechanism perfected through the evolutionary ages of man and thus, fundamental across all spectrums of life. Or is that simply wishful thinking?

Alas, what we know is that humans evolve at different rates, largely dictated by parenting, culture, education and the collection of life experiences where insight anticipates the transcendence of ill behavioural patterns turning us into thoughtful, mature and well-refined individuals.

However, on this life journey, we also see the continuum of individual thought or lack thereof; we see that some are less thoughtful than others and this is the crux of my argument, the heart of the matter and the core of our debate. This is where I would like to shine the spotlight because without deep thought and even deeper introspection, the evolutionary journey of one’s mind either stagnates or more problematically, withers and along with it, the vital chance to positively influence the trajectory of collective human consciousness.

Keep thinking, the catalyst for cooperation

This debate question poses significant dilemmas where more questions are unearthed the longer and more deliberate a plausible response reveals itself. These require, yet again, deeper analysis and deliberate thought. How do we catalyse insight and introspection? How do we increase the rate of individual thoughtfulness? How do we become more sophisticated in our thinking? How do we take a broader perspective, encouraging the myriad of shades of thought that any topic demands as a response? These questions are important because this is the type of thinking that underpins cooperation. At the heart of cooperation is thinking!

Join the conversation

We cannot advance and progress as equal genders unless we think, together. We cannot transcend ill behavioural patterns without thinking as one. We cannot catalyse the evolutionary trajectory of human consciousness without thinking cooperatively.

So back to the original question. Do women need the cooperation of men to succeed? I ask you, the reader, to make up your own mind, to observe your own thoughts, to consider what is true for you. I ask you to think about the answer, or perhaps, the myriad of other questions that spring to mind when you ponder such a multifarious topic. My response should be null and void to you. All I propose through this article is a perspective to catalyse thought, however, it is up to you, the reader, to determine an apt response.

The Institute of Managers and Leaders will host the International Women’s Day Great Debate on Friday, 8th March. This year’s topic, ‘Her aspiration needs his cooperation’, is the centrepiece in an event seeking to change Australian society by creating, supporting and championing women in leadership. Book now for our events in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sunshine Coast, Sydney and Toowoomba or join the conversation on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

About the author

T.A. Kiaos Ph.D (c) is an Organisational Anthropologist specialising in critical ethnographic research methods. T.A. Kiaos' research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control, with a particularly strong focus on how these interconnected phenomena affect marginal cohorts in the workplace.


What is normative control?

Normative control can be defined as the deep, subjective experience of employees that is claimed in the name of the corporate interest. According to Kunda:

Normative control is the attempt to elicit and direct the required efforts of members by controlling their underlying experiences, thoughts and feelings that guide their actions. Under normative control, members act in the best interest of the company, not because they are physically coerced, nor purely from an instrumental concern with economic rewards and sanctions. It is not just their behaviours and activities that are specified, evaluated and rewarded or punished. Rather, they are driven by internal commitment, strong identification with company goals and intrinsic satisfaction from work. These are elicited by a variety of managerial appeals, exhortations and actions (Kunda, 2006:11).

Corporations are forced to become increasingly more sophisticated with their forms of normative control. Consider, for instance, the evolution of post-industrial enterprises that have subsequently encroached on, and tapped into the subjective thoughts, feelings and experiences of workers, often moving outside the boundaries of one’s work cubicle to the inner sanctuaries of our homes – particularly through increases in contingent and flexible working arrangements. This contrasts significantly with the experience of workers during the industrial revolution, where one’s wages were simply transactional in exchange for labour. Normative control hence, becomes, over time, more sophisticated in nature and more difficult to observe, independently interpret and therefore, manage.

Normative control is typically the product of carefully constructed, enacted and positively reinforced ideologies. In other words, normative control could be considered a complex system of interconnected actions evident through the 'management' of an organisation's 'culture.' Normative control is observed in strong cultures, where an organisation’s ideology is reinforced through less ambiguous actions. For instance, these actions are typically executed by sources of authority, notably leadership teams: dramaturgical performance acts evident through public appearances, interpersonal performance encounters of various sorts or other means. Put differently, these actions are, in a general sense, carefully managed performance displays. It is important to note that such performance displays are not typically sinister, they are simply efforts in maintaining order and actions of which are designed to induce a sense of cultural consensus among organisational members, that is, consensus around the typical organisational member's subjective experience. It should be considered quite important for all employees across the corporate hierarchy and particularly those in lower echelons, or those who consider themselves marginal - employees situated on the periphery of the dominate culture, to understand exactly how carefully crafted ideologies and the 'managed culture' impacts on, and influences their subjective experience.

One must also consider that objects of normative control may became agents of it given the spoken or unspoken authority to act, particularly in social encounters where an external other is gaining control over their subjective experience. Stated differently, where one may be distancing themselves in thought, feeling and or action, both openly and deliberately from the agents of normative control.

Some employees adapt consciously; some unconsciously to the impacts of normative control. Those who possess a degree of critical thinking may prefer to display acceptance on the surface while remaining deeply detached and disconnected from the ideology, or the managed culture – a way, perhaps, to preserve the self. Careful observation may reveal this detachment if trust, respect and psychological safety are established between organisational members, either internal or external parties, who are privy to the deepest insights and personal experiences of the employee.

How does normative control impact the self? One of my greatest concerns, is that normative control may suppress independent critical thinking and, more problematically, freedom of expression. Expression of thought, provides an opportunity for reflection and the generation of critical insight. The aggregation of such experience builds positive momentum for the employee’s introspective journey and therefore, one would hope, furthering the development of critical thinking skills.

While we are geared to learn from our broader environments and interpersonal experiences, critically analysing the ideologies of 'managed cultures' of which we work must have a central point of intra-personal concern - how is normative control impacting the self - our subjective experience? If and when conscious awareness shifts, and our focus is on such phenomena, an association, a feeling that the ideology or the 'managed culture' does not sit or fit well with respect to the self, may emerge. The opposite also holds true. An awareness of one’s role within the managed culture, either as an agent or object of normative control can result in an enlightening experience or perhaps the realisation of a painful truth. Critically thinking, then, through the intricacies of moment-to-moment business life could be rendered valuable when normative control is acknowledged and consciously experienced by the self in order to best utilise normative control to one's advantage in the workplace and not the other way around.


Kunda, G. (2006). Engineering Culture. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

About the author

T.A. Kiaos Ph.D (c) is an Organisational Anthropologist specialising in critical ethnographic research methods. T.A. Kiaos' research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control, with a particularly strong focus on how these interconnected phenomena affect marginal cohorts in the workplace.


Humans have long adapted to their environments as a matter of survival. Our entire evolutionary path has largely been a matter of successful adaptation: tribes that attuned their behaviours to changing environments survived, while those that did not modify their approach typically perished. Apply this principle to contemporary existence, where life is anything but stagnant. Our working lives are in a constant state of flux: people come and go, policies change and systems are updated. Many workplace practices are undergoing rapid change and resistance often follows. The question of adaptation and survival surely must be asked at some point along our organisational trajectory. When it comes to increasing diversity in our workplaces, are we brave enough to accept and understand deeply those who are immensely dissimilar? Can we prove that we can adapt and thrive?

Most leaders hire for “culture fit.” When an interviewee is hired because they “fit” the culture, we know that the health of the team will become a little less strong. Alternatively, when we hire for “culture value,” we are improving the health of the team. Metaphorically, we can describe this process as akin to receiving a vaccine. The team may feel that it has been injected with a virus, something foreign; yet this leads the team, over time, to become immune to attack. Essentially, the team has proved itself able to adapt to the change, becoming increasingly resistant to anything that can harm it. We all know what happens to those who do not adapt to their environments. It is either adapt, or perish. The two do not co-exist.

Unfortunately, the likely result for most people who are hired and, later, recognised as not fitting the current culture is that they are “managed out.” What has occurred, perhaps inadvertently, is that the team has proved that it cannot adapt to the change that was presented to it; the challenge was too uncomfortable and the change too confronting. As with a foreign body, the easiest, perhaps the only, solution is to expel the foreigner. No adjustments need be made, no behavioural ills transcended. Consequently, what the team has lost is a growth experience. This cannot continue to be a reflection of the person’s “ill fit” to the culture; rather, it should become an introspective journey for those doing the “expelling,” because it was they who perhaps failed, not the incomer.

Most of us have heard of in-groups and out-groups. The strength of any team is perhaps its ability to adapt to those who enter, regardless of differences, and to approach the perceived differences with an open mind, in essence, less binary thinking concerning the incomer.

When hiring, be aware that "culture fit” won’t necessarily make your team healthier. It may make your team a little less resistant, a little less aware and a lot less plastic. It may pose a threat to the future survival of the team by reducing its ability to adapt.

About the author

T.A. Kiaos Ph.D (c) is an Organisational Anthropologist specialising in critical ethnographic research methods. T.A. Kiaos' research spans several interconnected topics: the underlying systems of cultural and sub-cultural meaning, managerial ideology and normative control, with a particularly strong focus on how these interconnected phenomena affect marginal cohorts in the workplace.