Background Gender can be seen as a construction in which history, culture and social relation are central. Thus, the construction remains strong can be explained by the fact that the existing conceptions about gender are continually passed on. It is not known how conceptions about gender in the context of Swedish health care are expressed by head nurses or what significance the conceptions have for their leadership.
Aim To study head nurses’ statements about their conceptions of gender and what significance these conceptions have in carrying out their work.
Methods Thematic interviews were held with 36 head nurses, and the contents of the transcribed interviews were analysed.
Results The results showed conceptions about men's direct and women's roundabout ways of communicating. Statements were also made concerning how men are oriented towards technical matters and women towards relationships, and how men are expected to show what they can do to a greater extent than women. These conceptions have an effect on head nurses in their work, as they are expected to live up to them. As we wished to obtain variation in the respondents’ statements about gender, we conducted an interview study. Hence, the transferability of the findings is a question of conceptualization, and the conceptions we recorded cannot be seen as representative for all head nurses. The results imply, however, that greater awareness about conceptions of gender may promote greater equality in women's and men's careers and allow greater freedom to head nurses to do what they themselves feel they should do instead of what they are expected to do.