Career Transitions: The Experiences of Unemployed Women Managers

By Sheridan, Terry A. | Australian Journal of Career Development, Winter 2008 | Go to article overview

Career Transitions: The Experiences of Unemployed Women Managers


Sheridan, Terry A., Australian Journal of Career Development


A sample of 45 women managers was surveyed in a qualitative study to explore their experiences of being unemployed. The sample was purposeful, and the data were collected on a website-based survey. The experience of unemployment for female managers was far different from what was previously presumed from research largely drawn from male managers. In this sample, 40% of the women managers were bullied, harassed or victimised out of their employment. Jobs that were taken at below the respondent's level of competence had the most negative emotional outcomes for respondents. Explanatory models of affect (positive and negative) were developed and the paper explores implications for career counsellors faced with competent, mature women managers searching for employment.

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Managerial unemployment has generally received little attention from researchers and even less attention has been given to the unemployment of women managers. The literature is sporadic and inconsistent. When faced with unemployment, managers were found to move slower through the job search than other workers and had lower self esteem (Fineman, 1979). However, support to raise self-esteem was seen to be too simplistic (Hartley, 1980a) and the proffered explanations that managerial unemployment was self-induced by personality problems or ineptitude were not found to be substantiated (Hartley, 1980b). Women were generally included in sampling but male managers predominated in number (Budge & Janoff, 1984). Warning signs that women's needs were different were given by Cooper and Davidson (1983) in their account of the stress women experienced in trying to achieve male-dominated managerial positions and the sheer difficulties of women achieving top roles (Marshall, 1995). Also, age was noted as a problem for managers re-entering the workforce, and this was an issue as women tended to be older than men when taking up managerial positions (Allan, 1990).

After the watershed recession of 1991-2, for the first time, managers were laid off in large numbers (Groshen & Williams, 1992) yet there was still no mainstream thinking that unemployed women managers would have separate career counselling needs until research started to trickle through in the late 1990s (Malen & Stroh, 1998). This culminated in Fielden and Davidson's ground-breaking research (2001). Most career counsellors, like everyone else, thought that women managers would need the same amount and type of support as men, relying on wholistic models of career development such as Gottfredson's theory of circumscription, compromise and self-creation, Super's life-span theory, and social cognitive career theory (Coogan & Chen, 2007). Fielden and Davidson (2001) found that women managers underwent more severe financial, emotional and physical effects than their male counterparts. One of the possible reasons put forward for this imbalance was that the women managers were being bullied out of their jobs but the men were not.

Although there are varying reports on the incidence of workplace emotional abuse or bullying, one of the largest surveys with over 5,000 employees (Health and Safety Authority, Ireland, 2001) found that 7% of respondents had been recently bullied and the incidence was higher with those who held higher educational qualifications. In addition women were found to be more likely targets of bullying (Queensland Government Department of Industrial Relations, 2002).

The impact of bullying and length of time people can suffer from it cannot be underrated. The Swedish researcher Heinz Leymann estimates that one in seven suicides is due to bullying in the workplace (cited in Bj6rkgvist, 2001). Hoel, Faragher, and Cooper (2004) found that becoming a target of bullying seriously compromised physical and mental health and for a considerable time afterwards. In addition, bullying would appear to be rife in managerial ranks. In their study of UK managers, Woodman and Cook (2005), found that 49% of middle managers were bullied by those above them in the last 3 years. …

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