Catch-22: Token Women Trying to Reconcile Impossible Contradictions between Organisational and Societal Expectations


Extending tokenism theory, and Kanter’s work on numerical representation within organisations, we emphasise the societal context of gender inequality in order to understand token women’s lived experiences at work. Based on analysis of 29 in-depth interviews in a multinational (MNC) situated in the distinctive socio-institutional setting of Saudi Arabia, the article expands Kanter’s typology of roles, to capture token assimilation in a context-embedded way. In particular, we explore the interaction of a seemingly Western MNC espousing liberal values, rules and norms with the enduring patriarchal and traditional context of Saudi Arabia. Further adding texture to Kanter’s theory, this study reveals that the organisational context cannot be seen as fundamentally neutral and inevitably interacts with the societal context, resulting in unique manifestations of tokenism.

Publication DOI:
Divisions: College of Business and Social Sciences > Aston Business School > Work & Organisational Psychology
Additional Information: © The Author(s) 2021. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License ( which permits any use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
Uncontrolled Keywords: context,gender inequality,patriarchy,role traps,Saudi Arabia,tokenism
Publication ISSN: 1469-8722
Last Modified: 15 May 2024 07:16
Date Deposited: 20 Oct 2021 07:50
Full Text Link: https://qmro.qm ... 123456789/72998
Related URLs: https://journal ... 500170211035940 (Publisher URL)
PURE Output Type: Article
Published Date: 2021-12-17
Published Online Date: 2021-12-17
Accepted Date: 2021-06-01
Authors: Aldossari, Maryam (ORCID Profile 0000-0001-9661-4610)
Chaudhry, Sara
Tatli, Ahu
Seierstad, Cathrine



Version: Accepted Version

Access Restriction: Restricted to Repository staff only until 1 January 2050.


Version: Published Version

License: Creative Commons Attribution

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