The current literature on working women can be grouped broadly into three areas: research that documents the individual and work characteristics that create work-family conflict and organizational and policy interventions to reduce this conflict; gender equity in the workplace; and women and careers. Limited research in the last 25 years has explored the meaning of work in women’s lives despite the dramatic increase in female labor force participation. Another gap in the literature that is central to this project is the notion of what constitutes the ideal career. The current ideal is informed by the notion of the ideal worker that emerged post-WWII, where the ideal worker was a man who was available to his employer for as many hours as needed. We extend this concept to careers, whereby the notion of the ideal career is based on that of men’s experiences from the same time period, and success is defined by a linear, upward trajectory. We believe that both employees and employers still evaluate others, both explicitly and implicitly, based on this outdated notion of career success.
This study seeks to address these gaps in the literature, by exploring: (1) the meaning of work in women’s lives and (2) how women conceptualize their careers and the aspects of their lives that may influence career patterns. The most current research on working women focuses on work-family integration, gender equity, and until recently has only examined women’s careers from a gendered perspective. While important areas of study, these perspectives are limited as they minimize women’s personal experiences about employment, assume family is central to women’s identity as “workers,” and rely on an outdated view of the ideal career trajectory that has been defined by men’s experiences. This study will employ qualitative methods and photo documentation to better understand the meaning of work in the lives of women and how women conceptualize their careers.