This PhD explores women's move from employment to self-employment, examining their experiences and perceptions of this transition. In particular, it focuses on the following five central research questions:
- How does the move from employment to self-employment fit in with a woman's career pattern more generally?
- How can a woman's decision to leave her organisation be understood theoretically?
- Why did the women in the study choose to embark on self-employment and what were their expectations in doing so?
- What factors most influenced a woman's experience of self-employment?
- To what extent did the women in the study identify themselves as entrepreneurs and what factors impacted on this identification?
Implicit in the first question is an assumption that a woman's career transition can not be understood as a discrete moment or an isolated event; rather, it must be examined within the context of her developing career. The analysis illustrates that the move involves more than a "simple" change between career forms; rather, it is a much more complex transition, involving the balancing of often incompatible career discourses. In seeking to understand women's Career transition and development, the analysis emphasizes the importance of occupational identity, the focus of question 5 above. As regards the second question, in seeking to understand respondents' decisions to leave their organisations, it is necessary to examine both personal and organisational factors, not as a dichotomy, but as integrally related. Notably, gender emerges as significantly impacting on these decisions: in particular the implications of the ideology of the family for women's perceived roles and responsibilities. Turning to question 3, while for some the move to self-employment was experienced as a single decision, for others it was seen as two distinct, though related choices. Central to this analysis is the significance of family background, and gender. As regard women's fears and expectations, the analysis explores the notion of "risk", and examines the ways in which women's understandings of concepts such as "freedom" and "control" changed through their experience of self-employment. Considering question 4, those factors which respondents identified as having a significant impact on their experiences of self-employment, their previous organisational experience was seen as central. Also highly relevant were women's social networks: not only professional relationships and business partners, but also the important role played by husbands and families. Finally, permeating this analysis is the importance of both structural and agentic dimensions of experience in women's career transition. These dimensions, however, must not be seen as a dualism, but as a "duality" (Giddens, 1976, 1979, 1984; Bhaskar, 1975,1979, 1983). The thesis thus proposes a theoretical model for understanding women's move from employment to self-employment based on this dynamic interplay between structure and agency. Central to this model is the construction of occupational identity.