|Journal||Gender, Work & Organization|
Since the mid‐1990s, governments have adopted gender mainstreaming (GM) as a strategy for achieving gender equality and improving women's social, economic and political conditions. Yet, studies indicate that GM continues to be unevenly implemented, both within and across countries. To explain this outcome, this paper focuses on the local implementers of GM — the gender focal points — and how they understand GM and interpret it in their everyday work. Drawing upon interviews with gender focal points in the Canadian public service, we explore how bureaucratic role perceptions shape how these local actors understand GM and how they navigate the complex terrain between bureaucratic neutrality and the equality agenda of gender mainstreaming. Our exploratory study shows no common understanding among our interviewees, revealing how the meaning of gender mainstreaming varies depending on whether the public servant views himself or herself as policy analyst, policy advisor or policy advocate. Based on these insights, we conclude with suggestions for future research on gender mainstreaming.