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Preferences, constraints and work-lifestyle choices: The case of female Scottish chartered accountants

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Purpose ‐ Men and women are now being admitted to membership of the major UK professional accountancy bodies in approximately equal numbers. This trend has focused attention on the ways in which professional accountants combine careers and family life, particularly when women have children. Recognising the limitations inherent in the widely-used term "work-life balance" that polarises life and work, this paper instead seeks to consider the "work-lifestyle choices" made by female accountants. Work-lifestyle choices refer to the ways in which people place different emphases on the work and private spheres, according to their individual circumstances. Feminist researchers have argued that women's work-lifestyle choices have been limited by structural constraints. Over the past decade, a newer argument, preference theory, has emerged, suggesting that women's choices owe less to inequalities in the workplace and more to the preferences of individuals, particularly, but not exclusively, women. The purpose of this paper is to explore the work-lifestyle choices made by female members of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland (ICAS), in terms of both structural constraints and preferences, in order to present a more holistic understanding of the work-lifestyle choices made by this particular group of well-educated, middle-class women. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The paper combines feminist theory and preference theory in the context of the results of a questionnaire survey of female members of ICAS and 14 interviews with female members of ICAS. Findings ‐ The responses of these accountants suggest that, while structural constraints are evident, many work-lifestyle choices were driven by a desire to spend more time with children, and by women's perceptions of their mothering role. Most women, while recognising the opportunities forgone, were nonetheless happy with the choices that they had made. Originality/value ‐ The paper contributes to the literature by examining the voices of female accountants in order to explore how perceived gender roles impact on career decisions and work-lifestyle choices.
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Keywords: Accountants; Family life; Feminism; Job satisfaction; United Kingdom; Women

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2011-05-10

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