Loyalty raises a dilemma for women’s career progression and leadership because it signals confidence in the organisation, despite the ongoing constraints that organisations present for women and their leadership aspirations. The research investigates women’s loyalty in the context of higher education. Focussing on a select group of mid-level female academics, the paper will argue against a common sense understanding of loyalty as an expression of female care. A critical reconsideration of loyalty as care is made possible by analysing the ‘utility of loyalty’ and how it becomes a legitimate organising principle that operationalises institutional and personal objectives. How women enact loyalty draws on agency theory to explain and analyse the way loyalty is appropriated by women. The results show contradictory actions around loyalty, however, these can be clarified by agency theory to demystify loyalty and critically analyse how specific work actions and practices shape explain seemingly contradictory and emotive responses. The complications around women and loyalty are expressions of a substantive rationality through which mid-level female academics respond to the uneven opportunities, limitations and constraints that influence their work, profession and relationships.
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