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Competition and gender: Time’s up on essentialist knowledge production

Mavin, Sharon; Yusupova, Marina


Sharon Mavin


This article is an intervention in current trends of thinking about competition and gender in essentialist and stereotypical ways. Such thinking has produced numerous comparative studies measuring competitiveness of women and men; ‘proving’ men as competitive and women as non-competitive. Based on experiments and written questionnaires, these studies reduce gender to perceived biological sex and treat competition as a ‘self-evident’, static and easily measurable phenomenon. To contribute new understandings and learning, we surface five fallacies of this comparative research, explaining why the approach is misleading, inequitable and socially harmful. Drawing upon gender as a social construction and women leaders’ narratives, we offer a blueprint for democratising knowledge production. We write differently, choosing not to provide a ‘balanced’ view of the field and construct competition as a processual, complex and contextually specific phenomenon with underlying gender dynamics, rather than a discrete, observable and fixed in time event. The article provides learning: for leaders and managers to resist automatic categorisation on the basis of perceived biological sex; for management educators to challenge the ways that leadership and management are traditionally taught; and, for executive coaches to support changes in practice, by embracing complexity of the contemporary contexts in which leaders operate.


Mavin, S., & Yusupova, M. (2021). Competition and gender: Time’s up on essentialist knowledge production. Management Learning, 52(1), 86-108.

Journal Article Type Article
Online Publication Date Sep 15, 2020
Publication Date 2021-02
Deposit Date Jan 2, 2023
Publicly Available Date Jan 5, 2023
Journal Management Learning
Print ISSN 1350-5076
Electronic ISSN 1461-7307
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 52
Issue 1
Pages 86-108
Keywords Comparative studies, competition, gender, narrative inquiry, women leaders, women and men
Public URL


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