International Women’s Day on Thursday 8 March is our chance to celebrate the achievements of women whilst drawing attention to the ongoing global gender gap. Once more this coincides with National Careers Week, promoting the benefits of career learning activities, and we can harness both to #pressforprogress.
Last year I used IWD’s #beboldforchange campaign to reflect on how case studies of women’s careers function as objects of learning, sometimes raising aspirations and sometimes colluding with and therefore landing wide of the mark. This year I’m struck by two points about the narrow ways we can sometimes look at careers work, and make the case for a broader agenda.
First, career development isn’t just about making decisions and transitions. It is also about how we behave at work.
The #MeToo movement has shone a light this year on how behaviour in the workplace has affected women’s career development. Sexual harassment and patronage is just one example of how we all learn the behaviours that are accepted, encouraged and rewarded in the workplace. Career development activities such as career coaching or workshops provide people with space to stop and think about these; how they fit with our wider values and the consequences of them. In our curriculum resources pack ‘Re-designing Work-related Learning’, Phil McCash, Richard Mendez and I include session plans to help participants critically consider which behaviours they notice in others and sign up to themselves. Assumptions about gendered workplace behaviours can directly affect women’s career development; influencing which opportunities a woman might choose to pursue for example, and where the barriers to her progress might be.
Warwick honorary graduate and Director of LSE Dame Minouche Shafik is quoted as saying she prefers to think about these barriers as sticky doors rather than glass ceilings. The glass ceiling metaphor suggests that one bold woman can smash it and barriers are removed for evermore. A sticky door can be worked open, and therefore may be less sticky in future for other women but will still be there. It needs regular use and maybe some oiling to address sustainability.
And this leads me to point #2: that career development isn’t just about individuals, but about the interplay of individual action and social contexts. The personal really is political and our actions affect the career development of others. At the beginning of National Careers Week, digital entrepreneur Vala Afshar tweeted
You will not remember how much money you made throughout your career. But you will remember every person that graciously opened a career door for you. Be a door opener. #NCW2018
It’s a timely reminder that a sticky door can be opened collectively, through push and pull from both sides.
As we celebrate 100 years of women’s suffrage in the UK, we see how future generations can benefit from collective action. This continues now with campaigns for equal pay, and less gendered segregation of the job market.
So where will we push, for ourselves, and where will we pull, for others, this International Women’s Day?
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