"I Love My Job, but ... :" a Narrative Analysis of Women's Perceptions of Their Careers in Parks and Recreation

By Smith, Charlynne; Santucci, David et al. | Journal of Leisure Research, Winter 2012 | Go to article overview
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"I Love My Job, but ... :" a Narrative Analysis of Women's Perceptions of Their Careers in Parks and Recreation

Smith, Charlynne, Santucci, David, Xu, Shuangyu, Cox, Adina, Henderson, Karla A., Journal of Leisure Research

The history of women in the field of parks and recreation has embodied both empowerment and constraint. Women's experiences in all areas of leisure services including parks and recreation have been shaped by both structural and cultural factors (Aitchison, 2005). Women in this field have confronted personal as well as social concerns and actively worked for change in their own lives and the lives of their communities. However, the nature of women's roles in society and the gender-power relationships in workplaces and communities has sometimes provided challenges for professional women.

Most of the studies of women in leisure services over the past 25 years have addressed issues related to opportunities, constraints, and the interplay between gender and organizational structures. Many of those studies have been quantitative in nature and have not necessarily examined the context of women's work lives. Researchers have suggested that issues women historically faced in the profession sometimes appear to be ameliorated especially as more women have entered the field. Shinew and Arnold (1998), however, noted, "Although women represent the majority of new entrants into the leisure services field, they remain underrepresented in upper management positions" (p. 177). Therefore, concerns for women in recreation-related organizations continue to be not only an issue of employment representation, but also an issue regarding the quality of women's experiences in and out of the workplace.

The purpose of this analysis was to examine the perceptions of women in the field of parks and recreation regarding their careers and expectations for the future. The focus was centered on women in professional positions in public parks and recreation, which we also referred to as recreation-related professions. Professional is the term used to describe women who had higher education in a specialized field related to recreation. Career was defined broadly to include work and life roles, and women's career development was used as the theoretical structure to organize the collection and analyses of these data. Additional theorizing about the data was used to further describe the lives of the women working in parks and recreation.


When women were largely invisible in the workforce, issues regarding career development were of little consequence. In most discussions, women's professional lives and their career patterns were expected to model men's. If women were not able to progress in their development in the same manner as men were expected to do, they were often considered unqualified or incompetent. Many people now recognize, however, that "women's careers are often embedded in larger life contexts" (O'Neil, Hopkins, & Bilimoria, 2008, p. 727).

Women in parks and recreation appear to share many of the same career patterns as other working professionals. However, differences may exist between women in a public service field such as parks and recreation and women in the private or corporate sector. We provide background related to recent research on women's careers in general as well as literature about women in recreation-related professions.

Patterns and Paradoxes of Women's Career Development

Considerable research conducted early in the 21st century described the complexities that many women confront in their professional careers (e.g., O'Neill & Bilimoria, 2005; O'Neil et al., 2(X)8; Shapiro, Ingols, & Blake-Beard, 2008; Sullivan & Mainiero, 2008). O'Neil et al. concluded that despite the growing visibility of women's leadership in many organizations, male-defined constructions of work and career success dominate most organizational cultures.

Some debate also has ensued about whether career development theories should be different for men and women. For example, women's lives remain relatively more complicated because society remains gendered (Shaw, 2001).

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"I Love My Job, but ... :" a Narrative Analysis of Women's Perceptions of Their Careers in Parks and Recreation


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