As the achievements of individual women pioneers are celebrated around International Women’s Day, its refreshing to read the stories of successful women being highlighted in pieces such as this one: http://www.sepnet.ac.uk/sepnet-wise-celebrate-international-womens-day-inspiring-careers-case-studies-women-physics/. Yet it’s worth a pause to consider how we are using the case studies in our career development.
They are prime examples of the sort of career artefact that is all around us, that we take in and interpret without pause. We learn from them, making generalisations about how careers can or should develop, and about how the job market operates. From these, our beliefs and assumptions are formed, even if we never fully articulate them. But we are none of us blank slates and we read them from wherever we stand. Your age, stage, experiences and a host of other factors will affect what’s dominant for you. You could be starting out and considering aspirations, in the muddle of mid-career or at a later stage, wondering which ships have sailed for you.
But if we do pause, what can we learn? Perhaps we see a mismatch between the career behaviours espoused around us and those we feel comfortable with for ourselves. As this report from authors at King’s College London Mid-career Academic Women: Strategies, Choices and Motivation brings home, you might be in the midst of reconciling your own indicators of esteem with those valued by the ‘prestige economy’ – deciding what, if any, trade-offs are needed.
On the page, they are neatly packaged and presented, concealing what was most likely a messy and altogether human process of development. What conflicts did contributors have to work through in constructing them and claiming their voice as part of this feature? As they write they will have in mind their own internal success criteria as well as those conveyed by their job title.
Hints and tips always run the risk of landing wide of the mark, perhaps to do with the assumption that telling leads directly to knowing. And there would be a supreme irony if International Women’s Day was marked by yet another set of instructions issued to women!
For me, the case study is a rich resource. They highlight that in the public sphere we often see career as the ultimate expression of individualism, and yet if we dig beneath the soundbite, the fact we are so interested in the careers of others just goes to show that we are relational: and this is something which much conventional (dare I say, male?) career wisdom ignores.
These case studies have greatest purpose when they are used not to position a handful of pioneers at the top of the ladder. After all, that ladder metaphor whilst deeply engrained, defines us all in relation to the rungs above and below. If we all see success as getting to the top of the ladder, some of us are going to be disappointed: by its very nature a ladder will arrange us in a hierarchy.
In global terms, this IWD let’s remember that if you are reading this post then you can most likely check your privilege. Don’t just read these snippets but take time to process them, perhaps with a coach or on a career development programme. Features like this help us find space to reflect, take stock and learn from each other, but they will only serve a purpose if they enrich us all.
So, as we consider how we can ‘be bold for change’ this IWD, we are reminded that we can be bold examples for each other. What example do you want to be?
About the Blogger
Gill Frigerio is a Principal Teaching Fellow at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, University of Warwick. Gill is Course Director of MA Coaching, and Joint Course Director of Career Development and Coaching Studies