Other Unpublished Work | 2008

Punctuated Identities and the Careers of Professional Women


This paper proposes a punctuated equilibrium model of identity change to explain how professional women's career goals and attitudes can change rapidly and dramatically during mid-career years. Data collected from interviews of 43 women alumni of an elite business school explain how highly career-oriented women face considerable role strains due to demanding careers and gendered definitions of success in professional and family spheres. Threshold events can upset the precarious equilibrium women's professional identities maintain in the face of these strains, leading women to make consequential career decisions under conditions of identity disequilibrium. Such career decisions are often short-term coping strategies taken with little foresight or planning. However, modifications to professional roles taken as temporary measures to reduce identity conflict frequently take on permanency as these roles become entrenched and identities are reconstructed around new role configurations. Modified identities drive shifts in priorities and goals and changes to career commitment and ambitions. Women's disinvestment from professional careers can be seen as the response to role strain and identity conflict rather than the result of strategic decision-making. Differences in career commitment and attitudes between professional women who have remained on and who have left professional career tracks can be understood as the result of, rather than the driver of, such career decisions.

Keywords: Work-Life Balance; Decision Choices and Conditions; Identity; Personal Development and Career; Gender;


Kim de Vitton, Una. "Punctuated Identities and the Careers of Professional Women." 2008.