“It is competence first”: executives navigating gender equality targets and meritocracy in technology companies

Susanna Bairoh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this study is to understand how executives in technology companies relate to targets for gender equality, especially pertaining to top management. Design/methodology/approach: The study draws on 19 interviews of CEOs, senior line managers and HR directors in ten technology companies operating in Finland. The method is (reflexive) thematic analysis. Findings: Previous studies on the role of executives in promoting gender equality provide somewhat mixed results: while their role is vital, senior leaders may not be inclined to support gender equality targets and measures. Drawing on critical feminist theorizing, this study identifies three ways in which the executives in technology companies related to gender equality targets: endorsing, negotiating and resisting. However, all these responses were constrained by the executives’ assumption that their companies are meritocratic. The study illustrates how executives’ narrow understanding of gender equality and reliance on the presumably well-working systems, combined with underlying doubts about the competence of women, hinder the advancement of women to top management. Originality/value: While previous studies have evaluated targets to increase the number/percentage of women, both in certain “ideal case” companies and in terms of their effectiveness more broadly, this study discusses how technology company executives navigate these targets in relation to women's assumed “competence”.

Original languageEnglish
Peer-reviewed scientific journalGender in Management
Publication statusPublished - 05.12.2023
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article - refereed


  • 512 Business and Management
  • Equality
  • Executives
  • Finland
  • Gender
  • STEM
  • Technology companies
  • Top management


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