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Gender in Organizations

The Icelandic Female Council Manager

Eva Marín Hlynsdóttir

The importance of local authorities in modern states continues to grow regarding service delivery and policy-making. As the role of local authorities has grown, so has the prestige and importance of the top manager positions at the local level. Traditionally, women’s advancement into these top-echelon positions has been much slower than into positions at the lower levels of local government. So how and when do women get hired into these positions? Is their career advancement similar to that of their male peers, or are there notable differences between the sexes? And are women really only hired as change agents during times of crisis? The author provides answers to these questions and more by focusing on the career advancement of Icelandic female council managers. The book draws from both comparative resources and a single case study on Iceland and provides comprehensive information on the recruitment of women into the position of council manager from the perspective of local government studies, organizational studies and gender studies. The book will help scholars, students and practitioners interested in exploring the subtle hindrances facing women’s advancement into top-echelon positions in organizations.

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Chapter 6 Think Female—Think Change



The Icelandic local election in 2010 took place under the heavy cloud of the 2008 financial crash, which led to mass unemployment and unprecedented political upheaval in modern-day Iceland. Politicians were under heavy criticism, and consequently there was a loud outcry for change toward greater professionalism and less political patronage at the local level, both in relation to the council and the appointment of local government chief executives. In the previous election term from 2006 to 2010, the administration had been marked by politicians, as they had increasingly stepped into the role of chief executives becoming executive mayors in a much higher proportion than had been seen before, with 39 percent of all chief executives in 2006 being executive mayors compared to 22 percent in 2002. In sum, local leadership was in crisis, and change was desperately needed. One indicator of different attitudes toward local leadership at the time was the extremely women-friendly atmosphere, as women were hailed as saviors while men were regarded as the main culprits of the crash. Consequently, the balance of power changed in many local councils following the 2010 election as many new parties stepped onto the scene, promising “to get it right this time around.” The most notable of these was the city of Reykjavík, with the landslide victory of the Best Party with the comic Jón Gnarr in its leading position. The number of female ←85 | 86→councilors rose from 35.9 percent in 2006 to...

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