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Reflecting the increased attention to gender and women in the field of employment relations, there is now a growing international literature on women and trade unions. The interest in women as trade unionists arises partly from the fact that women comprise 40 percent of trade union membership in the USA and over 50 percent in the UK. Further, despite considerable overall union membership decline in both the UK and USA, more women than men are joining unions in both countries. Recognition of the importance of women to the survival and revival of trade union movements has in many cases produced an unprecedented commitment to equality and inclusion at the highest level. Yet the challenge is to ensure that this commitment is translated to action and improves the experience of women in their union and in their workplace.
Gender and Leadership in Trade Unions explores and evaluates the similarities and differences in equality strategies pursued by unions in the US and the UK. It assesses the conditions experienced by women union members and how these impact on their leadership, both potential and actual. Women have made gains in both countries within union leadership and decision-making structures, however, climbing the ladder to leadership positions remains far from a smooth process. In the trade union context, women face multiple barriers that resonate with the barriers facing aspiring women leaders in other organizational contexts, including the gendered division of domestic work; the organization and nature of women's work; the organization and nature of trade union work and the masculine culture of trade unions. The discussion of women trade union leaders is situated more broadly within debates on governance, leadership and democracy within social justice activism.