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Exploring career "choices" of work-centred women in a professional service firm

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Purpose ‐ The purpose of this paper is to challenge Hakim's work-centred category and empirically tests its applicability in a professional service firm. Design/methodology/approach ‐ The information was gathered through 19 in-depth interviews with women in an international consulting firm. The analysis was conducted using Nvivo software. Findings ‐ The paper shows that contrary to the contentions of preference theory, work-centred women do not face unfettered choice in their career advancement. Findings reveal a number of structural constraints within the firm ‐ namely the prevailing model of success, the need for high-level sponsorship and the need to network, which impact their choices. The findings also problematise the nature and formulation of the work-centred category itself. Research limitations/implications ‐ The paper surfaces a number of contradictions in the work-centred category and calls for further work in this area. The paper also surfaces the presence of structural constraints which impact on women's career choices. Further research to develop these themes and provide broader contextual analysis is called for. Practical implications ‐ Hakim's preference theory has taken responsibility for women's career advancement away from society and organisations and placed it on individual women. The paper challenges this positioning and calls for organisations to audit their policies and processes to ensure they are not "gender oppressive". Originality/value ‐ The paper adds to the debate on the applicability of preference theory through empirical evaluation of the one of the three categories at its heart ‐ that of work-centred women. The theory is found to be wanting on a number of issues and problematises not just the category but key tenets of the theory itself.
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Keywords: Career development; Professional services; Women workers

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2010-01-01

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