Female Leadership Within the Military: The Influence of Neoliberal Institutionalism

  • Derek McAvoy
  • Kevin Burgess
Part of the Palgrave Studies in Leadership and Followership book series (PASTLEFO)


Approximately one third of senior management positions across government departments in the UK are held by women. One exception to this pattern is the military arm of the UK’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) where the figure drops to below two per cent. To gain greater insight into what might account for this high variation relative to other departments, an exploratory case study was conducted in the UK’s MoD. The study investigated the structural and individual impediments faced by women seeking access to the highest organisational leadership echelons. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 52 high-ranked female officers drawn from all three military services. Because changes occurring within the UK government departments are informed primarily by neoliberalism and this ideology strongly values entrepreneurship, the specific leadership lens used for analysis drew heavily on entrepreneurial theories. The findings revealed a complex, dynamic interrelationship involving context, structure, agency and networks. The recursive relationship among these four components at the level of the individual represented a rich mixture of cognitive interpretation, risk taking, opportunity recognition and the use of scarce resources. Evidence was found which demonstrated that female institutional leaders could increase their career progression chances by minimising institutional deviation, thereby allowing individuals to benefit from increased leadership legitimacy. However, the evidence also suggested that women still faced many impediments which were inhibiting their chances of reaching the very top leadership roles.


Women Leadership Institution Entrepreneurship 


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© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Derek McAvoy
    • 1
  • Kevin Burgess
    • 2
  1. 1.Cranfield UniversitySteventon, AbingtonUK
  2. 2.Cranfield UniversityGracevilleAustralia

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