Handbook of Gendered Careers in Management
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Handbook of Gendered Careers in Management

Getting In, Getting On, Getting Out

Edited by Adelina M. Broadbridge and Sandra L. Fielden

Handbook of Gendered Careers in Management provides an international overview of current practice and theory surrounding gendered employment in management, illustrating the impact of gender on key stages of career development.
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Chapter 3: Understanding and researching ‘choice’ in women’s career trajectories

Patricia Lewis and Ruth Simpson


In a special issue on ‘Meritocracy, Difference and Choice’ published in Gender in Management: An International Journal, we highlighted how women presented their career trajectories as a matter of personal choice in that careers were seen by women to be ‘in their own hands’ (Simpson et al., 2010). Women claimed that opportunities were open and freely given, accepting in an uncritical manner contemporary discourse of equal opportunity and merit-based procedural fairness. This was despite the fact that observations and experiences of gender injustice in their organizations frequently fell short of the meritocratic ideal. Here, women referred to personal choice to justify their lower positions in the organization, as well as the slower career progress observed among female colleagues and peers. As we argued in the article, the uptake and internalization of the rhetoric of choice helped women negotiate the tensions between their belief in gender-neutral meritocracy as a driver of their careers and the reality of gender disadvantage encountered. Thus, if women are presented as having choice (for example, to prioritize family over career) and if unequal outcomes can be presented as the result of choices they have made, then the impact (in the eyes of women) of discrimination can be denied.

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