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Careers and Gender; Shall We Talk About Career Models in Women's Professional Development?

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The powerful conception that surrounds the high positions of responsibility are still moving, hindering or delaying the path of women to the top organization level. This research, through two series of semi-structured interviews conducted with eight women in a temporary lapse of twelve years, rebuilds their careers and lives and compares the expectations mentioned in the first interview with the reality produced in the second. The analysis of these stories and experiences is a synthesis of four models summarising career trajectories, transitions and conditions thereof of women in positions of responsibility.

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Since the beginning of history, work has been one of the main ideas behind human development, mostly pertaining to the life of men, who have taken on the dominant role in the jobs network. Public and private organisations are still trying to eradicate gender differences in the labour market, but the powerful concept of high level personnel is currently trying to create an easier path for women to reach the top of working structures.
Gender research carried out by enterprises in the past few decades point out the presence of continuous barriers in women’s path through the ranks of high responsibility. Among them, implicit variables of the professional profile such as experience, education, less access to relationships, family reconciliation troubles and salary differences are shown to be involved. All of these work structures constantly configure and reconfigure in favour of male productive work (such as produce and services) and hinder equality in other fields such as reproductive work (work linked with care and well-being), free time or political involvement.
The idea that a line can be straight or curved, with breaks or lacks of continuity, works like a simile for this study which focuses on professional careers. The line we are talking about is time. In researching knowledge about the careers and transitions that are part of the work trajectory, and considering the requirements that may enable or block women’s access to positions of responsibility, we start from a longitudinal approach that takes information from different moments in time. With the information gathered from interviews with a small group of women in 1998 and then in 2010, we build a picture of their professional and life developments, putting emphasis on the differences between the first and the second sets of expectations, each within a reality content.
Interviews were analysed, depending on the subjective experience of participants, in transitions and stages. We understand transitions as those objective events which appear to change the course of professional development. We classified them as expansion (change that involves new professional challenges); turnaround (function changes); step forward; reset; organizational move; relocation (location changes); revision of priorities and stepping back. Stages refer to the subjective part, determined by the way the women analysed their own situation, giving us four categories: learn and wait; put up with; break; and work and enjoy.
Together with transitions and stages, we designed different work paths that in the end could be summed up in four career models.

The aim of this model is to reach a high position, although once they reach the management job they go back in order to look for personal satisfaction and family life. From this moment on, they search for new challenges without giving up their private life.

They start with learning and growth opportunities that help them to improve their own professional career achievement. Sometimes this can cause trouble between private and work life, stimulating feelings of personal guilt. When expectations are not fulfilled, they look for motivation in their own life.

This begins with moves within an organisation until they attain an interesting job where they can grow and develop. High involvement and loyalty to the organisation make them accept different roles, making them essential. Finally, this gives them opportunities for self-improvement.
Even though they want to further their work careers, there are determinants which stop them and cause them to feel confused. Every move seems negative and they hope for new job opportunities without taking active decisions.
Regardless of the type of professional career, all models are characterised by the same patterns in women’s development: expecting new opportunities, continuous learning, success caused by external factors and unplanned promotions. In addition, women try to find a balance between their work and private life. In fact, work and private life are often perceived as the same, as women take on roles according to the place in which they find themselves.

Clara Selva Olid
Department of Social Psychology


Selva Olid, Clara. Models of professional career of the managerial woman. Universitas Psychologica. 2013, vol. 12, num. 4, p. 1237-1254. doi: 10.11144/Javeriana.UPSY12-4.mopc.

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