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

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - CIC (Context, Identity and Choice: Understanding the constraints on women's career decisions)

Reporting period: 2022-01-01 to 2022-06-30

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 was as anticipated.

All together 41 peer reviewed journal articles have been published in internationally excellent journals.
We have achieved a great deal in the lifespan of the project. In terms of staffing, we supported 4 excellent post-doctoral researchers; Alexandra Fisher, Renata Bongiorno, Thekla Morgenroth and Christopher Begeny (all of international standard), and an excellent administrator (Sarah White) who went on to become a research assistant for the project, replaced by Fiona French as the administrator.
Academically, we completed many innovative lines of research, with over 15 separate lines of research, including examining (a) how risk-taking is gendered and context-dependent, (b) the role of distinctive treatment in career choices and impostor feelings, (c) the impact of role models on career decisions and social change, (d) the impact of workplace quotas, (e) career choices and discrimination in the veterinary profession, (f) how race and gender intersect in the workplace, (g) the changing nature of gender stereotypes, (h) how fit affects perceptions of work-life compatibility, (i) how fit affects willingness to sacrifice, (j) how diversity initiative impact on career choices, and (k) the role of organisational performance of women’s leadership (the glass cliff), (l) non binary approaches to gender, (m) gender inequalities in the medical profession, (n) over-estimating progress in gender inequality, and (o) gender inequalities during COVID.
We have established collaborations with a number of organisations, including the British Veterinary Association, UBS, The MET office, EY, the National Health Service, the Behavioural Insights Team, and the Government Equalities Office. We have also established productive collaborations with more than 15 academics, including both internationally renowned professors (e.g. Madeline Heilman, Toni Schmader, Alice Eagly, Colin Leach, Collete van Laar, Belle Derks, Floor Rink), up-and coming post-doctoral researchers, and PhD student scholars. Our collaborators come from across the globe, including from The Netherlands, the US, Belgium, Sweden, Germany, Spain, Italy, Turkey, Canada and Australia. We hosted visits from 22 academics.
Together the group has given more than 100 talks, nationally and internationally, including keynote addresses to the Royal Society in London and the Future of Work conference in Melbourne, Australia. We also held our own two-day conference (London, May 2018), which brought together 81 international experts of workplace gender inequality and industry professionals to co-create an agenda of research for the rest of the project.
We have used ERC funding to leverage additional funding, including funding for research visits for Prof Madeline Heilman and Prof Toni Schmader, and ERC affiliated funded visits from Dr Noriko Hashiba (Research Fellow of Japan Society for Promotion of Science), Sara Pireddu (Italy)
We have established collaborations with a number of scholars: Madeliene Heilman, Alice Eagly, Toni Schmader, Colin Leach, Belle Derks, Collete van Laar, Floor Rink, Loes Meeussen, Lianne Aartzen, Kim Peters, Miguel Fonseca, Janka Stoker, Leire Gartzia, Sanne Feenstra, Miriam Zehnter, Lea Skewes
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, (c) how perceptions of gender equality shape decisions about men and women’s progress in the workplace, and how COVID has impacted on workplace gender equality
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.