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Context, Identity and Choice: Understanding the constraints on women's career decisions

Periodic Reporting for period 3 - CIC (Context, Identity and Choice: Understanding the constraints on women's career decisions)

Reporting period: 2020-07-01 to 2021-12-31

There has been vast improvement in workplace gender equality, but there remain marked differences in the roles in which women and men work. Explanations for this inequality have focused on the barriers women face. However, as women begin to enter male-dominated roles, a new explanation has arisen: that remaining gender inequality must reflect fundamental differences between women and men, including differences in (a) ambition and desire for power, (b) needs for work-life balance, and (c) willingness to take career risks.
There has arisen the suggestion that gender equality necessitates women overcoming ‘internal obstacles’, ‘leaning-in’ and altering their choices (Sandberg, 2013), rather than challenging the status quo. Instead, we suggest that women’s choices are shaped and constrained by the gendered nature of organisational and social contexts and how women see themselves within these contexts. The programme of research, directed across 3 integrated streams, investigates how social and organisational structures define identities and constrain women’s choices in relation to ambition, work-life balance, and career risk-taking.
Key objectives:
1. To clarify the ways in which organisational and social contexts define identity and influence women’s choices in ways that constrain their career outcomes
2. To use an interdisciplinary, multi-methodological approach, to produce innovative theory and joined-up data
3. To work collaboratively with industry and policy stakeholders and end-users to co-create research questions and co-apply findings for maximum relevance and impact
4. To inform organisational and public policy interventions designed to change social and organisational contexts and facilitate the increase of women’s participation in hitherto male dominated sectors and roles.
Project progress has been as anticipated. We recruited an internationally excellent research team of three post-docs and a highly experienced administrator. We have organised and hosted the first project conference bringing together interdisciplinary academics and industry professionals. To date we have conducted over 44 studies and published 9 papers either directly or peripherally related to the grant, with another 17 either under review or in preparation.
WP1 (Participation in the open research data pilot). The project is participating in the open research data pilot and has delivered on its objective. The data management plan is a working document and has been updated yearly since the start of the project. The last update was in June 2019.
WP2 (Ethics requirements). The ethics requirements for all studies carried out have been met. For studies carried out, copies of ethics submissions, ethical approval letters, templates for informed consent and information sheets have been uploaded to the portal. Confirmation of collection of personal data and its protection for the studies is approved as part of the ethical approvals process. Documents are uploaded once per year onto the portal. Most recent upload in September 2019. To date, ethics documents have been uploaded for 27 studies since the start of the project.
Objectives achieved
Recruitment: We have recruited internationally excellent 3 post-doctoral researchers (Dr Chris Begeny, Dr Renata Bongiorno and Dr Thekla Morgenroth) and 1 highly experienced administrator (Sarah White) to support the project. We will expand this in 2020 with the addition of another post-doctoral researcher (1.0 FTE for 2 years) and a research assistant (0.5 FTE).
Academic: We have designed and conducted 44 studies. From these studies we have published a total of 9 papers in internationally excellent journals. We have a further 7 papers submitted for publication and currently out under review, and a further 9 papers are in preparation. The team have given 54 t alks since the beginning of the project, both nationally and internationally: key-note addresses at international conferences (such as the European Association of Work and Organisational Psychology), talks as part of organised symposia (including in the UK, the Netherlands, the US), invited talks at university departments (including Italy, Sweden, UK, The Netherlands, Australia), and invited talks at industry events and academic societies (including the Royal Society).
Dissemination: The team have disseminated the work from the CIC project widely, reaching an estimated excess of 14,000 policy makers, academics, and industry professionals and others.
Website and social media: the project website has been designed and set up to engage stake holders, potential participants, and collaborators (Fig. 1). The CIC project also has a dedicated Twitter account to further publicise and engage others in the research (Fig. 2 and Fig. 3).
Co-creation conference: In May 2018 we hosted the first project conference (Fig. 4), bringing together 81 academics and industry experts over 2 days. The event enabled us to share initial research findings on gender, ambition, work-life balance and risk-taking and career decisions whilst developing new collaborative ways of bringing academia and industry together. This resulted in the development of a number of new collaborations on projects and publications with new industry and academic partners, including the British Veterinary Association, Government Equalities Office, the Behavioural Insights Team, the MET Office, EY, UBS, and the National Health Service.
The CIC research is providing an increased understanding of how women’s career choices are shaped and constrained by context and identity.
Some of our work looks directly at women’s career choices. Our research has demonstrated that perceptions of work-life balance are determined not just by time constraints, but also about perceptions of fitting in with leaders and the degree to which one’s work-identity is compatible with one’s identity outside of work. We have demonstrated how women’s risk taking (inside and outside of work) is shaped by gender norms and perceived likelihood of success. We have shown that ambition, confidence, and feelings of being an impostor are shaped by everyday treatment by one’s work colleagues.
Some of our work looks less directly at women’s choices, but creates a deeper understanding of contextual and identity factors that have the power to shape choices. We have conducted work that provides a better understanding of (a) how people perceive and empathise with perpetrators and victims of sexual harassment, (b) the changing nature of gender and leadership stereotypes, and (c) how perceptions of gender equality shape decisions about men and women’s progress in the workplace.
All of this work has the potential to shape organisational policy and legislative change; it is already beginning to do so. Our work on fit and ambition has been used to shape advice given to organisations by the Government Equalities Office. Work conducted in collaboration with the British Vets Association has been disseminated widely to vets in the UK and in Australia, shaping managerial practice. We have also been working closely with the Behavioural Insights Team to design and test interventions to increase gender equality. We are in talks with UBS and EY on designing collaborative projects to achieve key company goals in relation to gender equality. We have also been speaking with 2 production companies to design television programs to communicate and further explore some of these findings.
CIC conference May 2018: Dr Chris Begeny delivering his talk: How men and women are treated at work.
Fig. 1 Context, Identity and Choice website
Fig. 2 Context, Identity and Choice Twitter account
Fig. 3 Context, Identity and Choice Twitter account – publicising the BVA report