University of Sussex
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Following in their mothers’ footsteps? What the daughters of successful career women want from their work and family lives

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posted on 2023-06-08, 23:15 authored by Jill Armstrong
Twenty-five percent of working women now occupy the top levels of the labour market (ONS 2013c). This presents an opportunity to assess the extent to which adult daughters have been influenced in their aspirations for work and family life by growing up with a mother with a successful career –a significant research gap. Intergenerational narrative interviews with 30 mother and daughter pairs explored their observations about the effects on their ambitions, relationships, emotions and identities. The mothers were most often the prime influence on their daughters’ embarking upon high status, satisfying careers. However, neither most mothers, nor their daughters aspired to ‘get to the top’, which challenges both the idea of progress towards gender equality at the highest levels in organisations and traditional definitions of career success. The mothers managed work and motherhood thoughtfully and most did not experience disjuncture between their identities (Bailey 1999). Key original contributions are that almost all the daughters thought that having a mother who worked mainly full---time out of the home in a career she found satisfying benefited them or, at least, did them no damage. Despite this, most daughters did not think that emulating their mothers would be fine for the children the daughters anticipated having. The main explanations for this are the pervasive idea that working part---time would give them the ‘best of both worlds’ as mothers and workers, the motherhood culture of ‘intensification of responsibility’ (Thomson et al. 2011, p.277), and the perceived lack of examples of satisfying flexible career paths within organisational careers for women and men. Many of the mothers took a pragmatic approach to their ‘emotion management’ (Hochschild 1983, p.44) of work---life trade---offs but did not transmit their experience of managing their feelings about working motherhood. I argue that doing so could benefit their working daughters.


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