You Wanna Be on Top? : A Narrative Career Study of Women’s Experiences and Strategies

University essay from KTH/Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM); KTH/Skolan för industriell teknik och management (ITM)

Abstract: In Sweden, the statistics show how women are underrepresented in organisational hierarchies; as managers, executive managers, CEOs and board of directors. Qualitative research reveals that women in management positions perceive the working life in Sweden as unequal and how men and women have different terms for making a career. Previous career studies told from women's narratives with a gender perspective caught our interest to examine how women reason and relate to their careers in 2019. The purpose of this study is to examine what emerges in stories about career and gender by women with management experience. We seek to understand how women relate to their career stories and how dilemmas are handled and how strategies are being used. We applied a narrative research design to obtain women's own stories about their careers. Ten narrative interviews were conducted with women with management experience within different companies and across several industries. The findings reveal how women in their career find themselves in minority positions in an environment imprinted by men's homosociality, including a language and toughness, that is difficult to relate to for the women. The minority position gives grounds to multiple approaches for women. The narratives show the urge to prove oneself, to legitimise one's position and to make oneself visible by showing will-power and determination. We found three strategies that women use in order to sustain self-esteem while coping with gender structures. We have named these strategies the individualistic strategy, the positive strategy and the explicit structure strategy. The individualistic strategy makes gender invisible by focusing on individual characteristics and traits. The positive strategy focuses on the advantages of being a woman and, the explicit structure strategy relates the meaning of gender to structures rather than to oneself. A central finding in our material is how the women switch between coping strategies. Switching between the individualistic strategy and the explicit structure strategy unveils two different themes. The first I don't want to generalise, but, illustrates how women relate gender to structures while they at the same time do not want to generalise between the genders. The second switch the Trojan horse explains how women are aware of gender structures and conform to men to sustain control and thereby sustain their self-esteem. Finally, to switch between stressing the benefits of being a woman and the burden of being a woman, we interpret as efforts to unburden the weight of gender structures. These switches between strategies give rise to contradictive reasoning, which we find entirely understandable as a means for women to make sense of their own reality.

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