Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Older Professional Women's Views on Work: A Qualitative Analysis

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Older Professional Women's Views on Work: A Qualitative Analysis

Article excerpt

This qualitative study reports on the career experiences of older professional women using consensual qualitative research. Thirteen women over age 50 were interviewed regarding the influences of gender and age on work. In general, all participants reported career adaptability, and many participants also reported specific subthemes of career adaptability (i.e., concern, control, curiosity, and confidence) as resources. These subthemes denote participants' future orientation, self-discipline as evidenced by their conscientiousness in career decisions, active information seeking, and certitude that they have the ability to solve career-related problems. Relationships with colleagues were also considered critical, and participants acknowledged the benefits and drawbacks of being a woman and being older. These women were able to achieve flexibility and autonomy in their work and spoke about the importance of work-family balance and boundaries. Practitioners are encouraged to consider how career adaptability is manifested within the interplay between gender and age, because this can influence career counseling with older women.

Keywords: aging, older women, career development, career adaptability

The number of older workers in the United States has increased in recent years and projections indicate that by 2018 nearly a quarter of all workers will be age 55 years and older (Toossi, 2009). Brewington and Nassar-McMillan (2000) asserted that older workers face a multitude of work-related concerns and that this population should be of interest to career counselors. Robson, Hansson, Abalos, and Booth (2006), however, contended that career theorists have neglected the career development of older workers. Although there has been significant interest in the career development of women in the past 30 years (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987; Walsh & Heppner, 2006), in their review of older workers, Hansson, DeKoekkoek, Neece, and Patterson (1997) found very few studies related to the experiences of these women. Because the population of workers in the United States is increasingly female and over the age of 50 years, research is needed to understand the working lives of older professional women in the labor force. The purpose of the present study was to explore the experiences of older professional women by using qualitative methods to identify themes used to describe their working lives.

Life-space theory (Super, Savickas, & Super, 1996), one of the few career theories that address older adults' life-span, espouses a perspective on careers as developing over the entire human life cycle. Maintenance-the career stage that includes the developmental tasks of sustaining, keeping up, and innovating-is typically associated with individuals who are 45 to 65 years of age. This can be a renewal period in which the individual updates skills and knowledge or discovers new challenges (Super et al., 1996). In career construction theory, Savickas (2002, 2005) updated and advanced Super et al.'s (1996) seminal theory by using social constructionism as the metatheory in which to reconceptualize vocational development. According to Savickas (2005), "career construction theory, simply stated, asserts that individuals construct their careers by imposing meaning on their vocational behavior and occupational experiences" (p. 43). A focus of the present research project was to examine the meaning that older professional women attribute to their work and current career stage. Savickas's (2013) career construction theory has three major components: vocational personality, life themes, and career adaptability. Career adaptability emphasizes the coping processes individuals use to connect social roles and construct their careers. Whereas vocational personality addresses what career an individual constructs, career adaptability deals with how an individual constructs a career. The current study investigates how older women construct their careers. …

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