Women and Careers: New Zealand Women's Engagement in Career and Family Planning

By Ussher, Sarah; Roche, Maree et al. | New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online), September 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Women and Careers: New Zealand Women's Engagement in Career and Family Planning


Ussher, Sarah, Roche, Maree, Cable, Donald, New Zealand Journal of Employment Relations (Online)


Introduction

Compared to 30 years ago there are more women present in the workforce, and women now have more opportunities and choices available to them regarding their ability to negotiate around the different life roles available to them (Novakovic & Fouad, 2013; Vinkenburg, Van Hattem, Ossenkop & Dikkers, 2013). Within a research context, two life roles are salient. Firstly, how having a family can affect career opportunities, and secondly, how career decisions can influence decisions around family priorities (Fetterolf & Eagly, 2011; Friedman & Weissbrod, 2005). While these are increasingly understood, what is less understood are the perspectives of women who are about to enter their careers, who are currently childless, and their current perceptions around decision making with regards to a career and a family. Ultimately, this research seeks to address this gap.

Family responsibilities do have constraints on women and men's careers (Covin & Brush, 1991), it is generally expected that conflict between life roles occur for men and women regarding career, marriage, and parenthood roles (Kerpelman & Schvaneveldt, 1999). Women's career building stage or establishment stage typically coincides with the peak of their fertility, thus, women may be faced with decisions or expect a trade-off between having a career and having children, that men may not necessarily face (Brown & Diekman, 2010; Ezzedeen & Ritchey, 2009; Fetterolf & Eagly, 2011; Friedman & Weissbrod, 2005). The approach women take to integrate a career and family is an important topic to explore as it has an impact on women's lives in two major areas - their career life and their family life (O'Brein, Friedman, Tipton, & Linn, 2000). Women's career paths are generally regarded as being more complex than those of men as women have been found to make career decisions and plans to integrate and accommodate having a family (O'Brein et al., 2000) and childbearing has been found to be a limiting factor for a women's career (Larwood & Gutek, 1987). Hewlett, Buck-Luce, Shiller, and Southwell (2005) examined why women take time out of their careers and found the reasons typically had to do with family (childcare or aging parents) or that they are unable to fulfil their responsibilities at home and work. The most common reason for women leaving their careers was to increase time with their children, cited by nearly half (45 percent) of their participants. Not only is leaving the workforce difficult for women, but it is also difficult reentering it given that women were often penalised in terms of their earning capacity (Hewlett et al., 2005). Nowak, Naudé, and Thomas (2012) found working female professionals acknowledged the presence of these complexities, which included the constraints of career progression and training, reduced opportunities for advancement, and thus overall restrictions on their future career due to making the decision to have a family. Miree and Frieze (1999) found 88 percent of their female participants chose to reduce their hours or exit the workforce or prioritise their children, after having children. Overall research suggests that, for women, having children can have a negative effect on a career.

Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer at Facebook, published a book titled 'Lean in: Women, work, and the will to lead' (Sandberg & Scovell, 2013). It reviews a wide range of issues regarding women in the workforce. She pointed out that women, at an early age, face a dilemma - the choice between having a good career or being a good mother. She and others note that women are opting out (leaning out) of their careers prematurely to accommodate for a family that does not currently exist; they pre-emptively plan to accommodate for having a family at the expense of current career planning and engagement (Ganginis Del Pino, O'Brien, Mereish, & Miller, 2013; Sandberg & Scovell, 2013). …

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