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Gendered Identification: Between Idealization and Admiration


  • The authors would like to thank Rachel Dunkley Jones for helping to collect the material. The research was financially supported by the research consortium on Generation Y, convened by the Lehman Brothers Centre for Women in Business at London Business School. The consortium included the following partner companies: Accenture (Founding Partner), Allen & Overy, Barclaycard Business, Baxter International, Cargill, IBM, Johnson & Johnson and KPMG. Thanks also to Judy Wajcman, Lynda Gratton and Julia Nentwich for their constructive feedback on earlier versions of this paper. The authors would also like to thank the anonymous reviewers and the Editor of the British Journal of Management for their patience in developing this paper.
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While much of the literature on gender focuses on role models, this paper extends the understanding of gendered professional identification processes by exploring these processes through the lenses of idealization and admiration. Using the method of discourse analysis to analyse MBA students' accounts of people with whom they identify, this paper explores discourses of idealization, defined as aggrandizing a person, and of admiration, which means discussing positive as well as negative and neutral characteristics of a person. It is shown, first, that most male and female MBA students idealized the self-made ‘authentic’ CEO or founder of an organization and, second, that women mainly admired other women through naming their positive, neutral and negative attributes. The paper thereby adds to understanding of how gendered identification processes are structured by idealization and admiration.