The Good Working Mother: Managerial Women's Sensemaking and Feelings about Work - Family Issues

By Buzzanell, Patrice M.; Meisenbach, Rebecca et al. | Communication Studies, September 2005 | Go to article overview

The Good Working Mother: Managerial Women's Sensemaking and Feelings about Work - Family Issues


Buzzanell, Patrice M., Meisenbach, Rebecca, Remke, Robyn, Liu, Meina, Bowers, Venessa, Conn, Cindy, Communication Studies


With middle-class women's entry into and sustained workforce participation came concerns about work--family balance, especially as women began to consider whether and at what points in their careers to have children (Fondas, 1995; Orenstein, 2000). Work-family issues were depicted as either/or dilemmas in which women had to pick or choose sides (Williams, 2000). If they chose both work and family, they were labeled as superwomen or second shifters (Hochschild, 1989; Schwartz, 1989). Work and family women reported exhaustion and guilt over time and energy conflicts between competing (public-private) realms (Edley, 2001; Friedman & Greenhaus, 2000; Frone, Yardley, & Markel, 1997). They sought to manage double binds of managerial and feminine identities, career and relational time, and embodied (feminine) differences from professional, rational, and masculine norms (Jamieson, 1995; Martin, 2000; Nadesan & Trethewey, 2000; Trethewey, 2000; Wood & Conrad, 1983).

Work-family dilemmas played out in academic discussions about how to construct more equitable organizations and families, as well as in everyday decisions and practices as women considered how, when, and if they wanted to bring issues about mothering into the workplace (e.g., Jorgenson, 2000; Kirby, Golden, Medved, Jorgenson, & Buzzanell, 2003; Rapoport & Bailyn, 1996). Research on the ways in which middle-class women made sense of their choices tried to encourage movement from either/or positioning to more fluid work and family and identity(ies) constructions (Kirby et al., 2003; Orenstein, 2000; Williams, 2000). But questions remain about how women express and construct meanings of their choices, particularly during those times when they are faced with work-family dilemmas, such as when they arrange child care after adoption or birth. It is during times when everyday routines, relationships, organizing processes, and identities are called into question that sensemaking is most apparent (Murphy, 2001; Weick, 1979, 1995).

In this study, we analyze the discourses and practices of a particular group of female employees, namely, female managers, to locate how they "thread their way through the complexities of everyday social life" (Weick, 1992, p. 172). We focus on this group not only because they engaged in child care searches and relational negotiations as working mothers but also because, as white collar workers, they would have a great deal to consider in terms of professional reputations, feminine roles, work opportunities, and careers as they became mothers and handled work-family issues (Martin, 1990; Mock & Bruno, 1994; Schwartz, 1989). In contrast to less affluent women, they would likely have the financial resources to be stay-at-home mothers (Fox, 2002). They would be in positions to negotiate roles, capitalize on varied identity constructions, and, if necessary, move into different employment situations (see Ashcraft, 1999; Miller, Jablin, Casey, Lamphear-Van Horn, & Ethington (1996). As a result, this project focuses on the sensemaking of these particular women. Gaining greater knowledge about how, when, and why these privileged women make sense of and construct work-family choices and identities may provide more appreciation for the struggles that other women face when not living under (presumably) the best of conditions.

Literature Review

Workplace pregnancy, maternity leaves, and child care issues often constitute transitions in the lives of employed women. However, identity and role struggles may be particularly acute for managerial and professional women because their careers and their traditional female roles seem at odds (see Jamieson, 1995; Martin, 2004; Martin, 1990, 2000; Mock & Bruno, 1994; Schwartz, 1989, 1992; Sigel, 1996; Wood & Conrad, 1983). [1] Career and family ideological tensions surface even in decisions about when to have children as companies stipulate work hours, project deadlines, employability security, advancement potential, and optimal birthing times (see Blair, Brown, & Baxter, 1994; Martin, 1990). …

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