Mothering the organisation : a phenomenological exploration of women who off-ramped careers : influences, time use, skills, and the business practices that support or hinder women's professional re-engagement

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This research challenges common images of the stay-at-home-mother as it explores the lived experiences of women who: a) off-ramped élite professional careers to become long term, stay-at-home-mothers (SAHMs), and b) have considered re-engagement with the professional workforce. I investigate firstly, the women’s reasons and experiences of being SAHMs; secondly, their expectations of organizational re-engagement; and thirdly, managerial views and organizational practices that hinder or support such re-engagement. The direction for this research emerged from a desire to address issues of inequality and marginalisation faced by professional women in organizations, as a penalty for becoming mothers. My research draws from sociology, philosophy, feminism, management and organization studies. Through the use of feminist, standpoint, phenomenological and narrative methodologies I create a space in which to give SAHMs voice, and consider issues of fit and misfit between their narratives and those of business managers. This research makes three significant contributions. It profiles a politically unrepresented, socially marginalised and organizationally ignored group of professional women. It identifies SAHMs as a significant cohort of plausible re-entrants into professional roles in Australia’s ageing workforce. It locates organisational receptivity to such re-engagement. The findings suggest that SAHMs are highly educated and experienced women; that their strengths and employability potential are not understood within organisations; and that there are no pathways for them to re-enter the professional workforce. The overall conclusion is stark: this cohort who off-ramped from élite careers is not deemed employable in professional roles. The thesis addresses a major gap in current literature, theory and discourse on professional women who mother, who off-ramp careers and who engage in care work activities long term. The research contributes to career, care work, skill, organisational practice and older workers literatures. The characteristics of SAHM-like women and their potential as an underutilised source of skilled talent should also be of interest to organisations, HR practitioners and ageing workforce strategists.
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