Indonesian Women’s Civil Service Leadership: Analysis of Career Progression Opportunity and Constraint

Published date01 July 2023
AuthorHelen McLaren,Emi Patmisari,Mohammad Hamiduzzaman,Cassandra Star,Ida Widianingsih
Date01 July 2023
Subject MatterArticles
Administration & Society
2023, Vol. 55(6) 1218 –1249
© The Author(s) 2023
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/00953997231167556
Indonesian Women’s
Civil Service Leadership:
Analysis of Career
Progression Opportunity
and Constraint
Helen McLaren1, Emi Patmisari1,
Mohammad Hamiduzzaman2, Cassandra Star1,
and Ida Widianingsih3
Women in Indonesia’s civil service (n = 320) were surveyed about their
career advancement. Analysis of variance identified differences in career
progression, and post-hoc comparisons were tested using Fisher’s
Least Significant Difference method. We found that family support and
interpersonal relationships, paired with superior education to men, were
critical to women’s successful leadership progression, especially through
the echelon ranks. Qualitative results suggest that interpretations of hadith
outweighed more contemporary textual readings, which required strategic
maneuvering if women wanted to advance. This is because women’s own
career aspirations required their ongoing loyalty to men and strategic
maneuvering among filial, societal, and organizational constraints.
women, public sector, female leadership, career progression, Indonesia
1Flinders University Australia, Adelaide, Australia
2Southern Cross University, Coolangatta, QLD, Australia
3Universitas Padjadjaran, Sumedang, Indonesia
Corresponding Author:
Helen McLaren, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work, Flinders University, GPO
Box 2100, Adelaide SA 5001, Australia.
1167556AAS0010.1177/00953997231167556Administration & SocietyMcLaren et al.
McLaren et al. 1219
This article reports on mixed methods research that explored women’s career
advancement in the upper echelon ranks of the Indonesian civil service, spe-
cifically the opportunities and constraints reported by the women. While
important to achieve equitable representation of women in leadership, the
Indonesian civil service context is fraught with gendered personal and politi-
cal issues. The careers paths of women through leadership ranks are full of
obstacles and often blocked. Socio-cultural and policy factors contribute to
inequitable numbers of women in decision-making roles in business, civil
service, and non-government agencies. When there are few women in posi-
tions of power, the women they represent are effectively denied voice in the
formulation of policies and programs affecting them. This is ethically unac-
ceptable and detrimental to human rights. Inequitable representation risks
rendering women in society voiceless, and unserved.
Commonly known as the glass ceiling, researchers agree on the existence
of ever-present barriers that discriminate against women and prevent their
progression to roles observable ahead of them (Cook & Glass, 2014;
Lathabhavan & Balasubramanian, 2017). This is because stereotypes, gender
bias, organizational architecture and structural barriers persist in privileging
men for senior leadership positions (Loring, 2018; H. McLaren et al., 2019).
Women who crack this glass ceiling are highly likely to encounter yet another
glass ceiling in their attempts to advance further (Russo & Hassink, 2012;
Traavik, 2018). This double glass ceiling phenomenon is no longer sufficient
to capture the pervasiveness of women’s leadership progression journey,
which Eagly (2007) more accurately calls a labyrinth. The beginning of a
woman’s career is like entering a labyrinth in which the maze ahead moves
and re-forms, and continuously blocks their way. The few women who navi-
gate this labyrinth may become discursively pressured to join the ranks of
men or be loyal to machismo to survive (Chinga, 2021; Faniko et al., 2017;
Mavin et al., 2017). Inadvertently, some women may then limit opportunities
for other women to follow.
While research exists on barriers experienced by women, less is known of
the enabling factors for women that have succeeded in forging pathways to
the top. A brief overview of the extant literature on women’s leadership is
provided below prior to highlighting women’s career enablers and constraints
in our study.
Leadership Careers and Constraints
Research establishes that individual and environmental factors, along with
institutional conditions, can either enable or hinder women’s advancement.
This is observable when societal interests are blended into organizational
1220 Administration & Society 55(6)
culture and bureaucracy (Busayo, 2017; Wickramaratne, 2013). In localities
where patriarchal culture is strong, collective macro-level change is seen as
critical to opening opportunities for women (Ndlovu & Gerwel Proches,
2019; Shockley et al., 2020). For example, Ohia and Nzewi (2016) examined
the social structures in Nigeria that regulate and sustain public mindsets
viewing male dominance in leadership as normal and natural. They found
that women who succeeded in formerly male domains had to first negotiate
the socio-cultural barriers external to the workplace, then survive within.
While understanding how to navigate the male domain was a career enabler,
more critical was the targeting of macro-level customary institutions main-
taining gender inequity in the first place. A balanced composition may boost
institutional efforts toward equality, diversity, and social inclusion, and help
to dismantle barriers operating at all societal levels (Diehl & Dzubinski,
2016). However, in a recent study of women’s leadership, Caven et al. (2022)
argued that an equal proportion of women does not guarantee that gender
equality in society will be or has been established.
Authors focusing at the micro-system level argue that women would suc-
ceed in career advancement by participating in leadership development pro-
grams (Jugmohan & Muzvidziwa, 2017), receiving mentoring from
colleagues or leaders (Khalid et al., 2017) or guidance to become leaders
from other leaders in their organizations (Beeson & Valerio, 2012). Women’s
personality traits are frequently provided as a reason for non-progression to
leadership and some researchers argue that women need male role models,
male mentors, or to act more like men, to succeed (Azmi et al., 2012; Kim &
Cho, 2018). More like men means being “agentic,” with assertive, control-
ling, dominant, and competitive acumen (Boytos et al., 2020). However,
Boytos et al. (2020) identified a paradox in which women leaders tend to
operate from a stereotypically feminine modality in which collegiality and
relationships are important in leadership, but these qualities are often con-
structed as deficits in women.
In overcoming so-called leadership deficiencies in women, researchers
propose that girls should participate in leadership courses from a young age
to equip them with appropriate tools, confidence and capacity as leaders later
in life (Bowen & Miller, 2018; Mims & Kaler-Jones, 2020), likewise locating
gender and not patriarchy as the problem. In response, researchers suggest
that girls could be conditioned to be risk embracing and assertive, and pro-
posing associations between women’s assertiveness and the capacity to gar-
ner the trust of their families and communities to pursue leadership careers
(Guillén et al., 2018; Notwell, 2018). Such researchers argue that these con-
ditions are necessary to progress in societies where male leadership is
favored, irrespective of women’s leadership capacity. However, it is unlikely

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