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A price worth paying?: Women and work – choice, constraint or satisficing

By Susan Corby and Celia Stanworth


Purpose – Are women held back or holding back? Do women choose their jobs/careers or are they structurally or normatively constrained? The purpose of this paper is to shed fresh light on these questions and contribute to an on-going debate that has essentially focused on the extent to which part-time work is women’s choice, the role of structural and organisational constraints and the role of men in excluding women. Design/methodology/approach – The paper uses data from interviews with 80 working women – both full-time and part-time – performing diverse work roles in a range of organisations in the south east of England. Findings – It was found that many women do not make strategic job choices, rather they often ‘‘fall into’’ jobs that happen to be available to them. Some would not have aspired to their present jobs without male encouragement; many report incidents of male exclusion; and virtually all either know or suspect that they are paid less than comparable men. Those working reduced hours enjoy that facility, yet they are aware that reduced hours and senior roles are seen as incompatible. In short, they recognise both the positive and negative aspects of their jobs, whether they work full or part-time, whether they work in male-dominated or female-dominated occupations, and whatever their position in the organisational hierarchy. Accordingly, the paper argues that the concept of ‘‘satisficing’’, i.e. a decision which is good enough but not optimal, is a more appropriate way to view women’s working lives than are either choice or constraint theories. Originality/value – There is an ongoing, and often polarised, debate between those who maintain that women choose whether to give preference to work or home/family and others who maintain that women, far from being self-determining actors, are constrained structurally and normatively. Rather than supporting these choice or constraint theories, this paper argues that ‘‘satisficing’’ is a more appropriate and nuanced concept to explain women’s working lives

Topics: HQ, HD
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Year: 2009
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