Women in the middle: mothers’ experiences of transition to part-time and flexible work in professional and managerial occupations

Young, Zoe (2017) Women in the middle: mothers’ experiences of transition to part-time and flexible work in professional and managerial occupations. Doctoral thesis (PhD), University of Sussex.

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This study explores the limits and potential of flexible working through the lived experience of women in professional and managerial jobs who adjust their employment because of their motherhood. A qualitative, longitudinal research strategy using repeat narrative interviews follows 30 mothers through a year of their lives as they go part-time, job-share, flex their schedules, and work from home. They typify Hakim’s (2000; 2006) ‘adaptive’ category of women, which Lewis and Simpson (2017) argue exemplifies a new ‘postfeminist subject’ (p128): women required to perform well simultaneously in both work and domestic domains. Anchored theoretically in debates about the relative influence of structure and agency in determining women’s employment participation and outcomes. This thesis critiques choice in relation to employment and motherhood. It contributes new explanations why professional women ‘choose’ different types of flexible working arrangements and how the experience of ‘doing’ flexible work tallies with expectation.
The study finds women’s transitions into part-time and flexible work arrangements rarely reflect their ideal preference of job, working hours, schedules or locations. The working arrangement women arrive at is a complex and pragmatic settlement of competing practical and ideological pulls, constraints and incentives. Maternal responsibilities endure, irrespective of women’s working hours. Choices are neither clear nor unfettered, and are fraught with anxiety. Five narratives reflect the diverse range of personal intentions behind women’s work-life choices made at particular biographical moments in specific social circumstances. The narratives reveal that moves into part-time and flexible work can be tactical, restorative, professionally expansive, are morally potent, socially informed and often a compromise.
This study advances understanding of how women working flexibly experience work and are incorporated into organisations. Their lived experience is characterised by trial and error, work intensification, work-life integration, and frequent further adjustments. Most women expected, demanded, and benefited from very little practical involvement of their employers in developing effective job-designs for flexibility. Over time many felt fatigued by their responsibility to manage their arrangements invisibly, minimising inconvenience to others at work and at home. This has implications for flexible working policy and workplace practice. This thesis makes clear that solutions to gender troubles at home and at work are collective and involve politicising the family as well as the workplace in order to achieve genuine choice for women in the occupations they pursue and the success they achieve.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Schools and Departments: School of Law, Politics and Sociology > Sociology
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HD Industries. Land use. Labour > HD4801 Labour. Work. Working class > HD5106 Hours of labour Including overtime, shift work, sick leave, vacations
H Social Sciences > HQ The Family. Marriage. Women > HQ0503 The Family. Marriage. Home > HQ0755 Parents. Parenthood Including parent and child, husbands, fathers, wives, mothers
Depositing User: Library Cataloguing
Date Deposited: 16 May 2017 14:40
Last Modified: 13 Jun 2019 08:23
URI: http://sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/68119

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