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Title: Flexible working : the experiences of women knowledge workers
Author: Thomson, Aleksandra
ISNI:       0000 0004 7426 2644
Awarding Body: Bournemouth University
Current Institution: Bournemouth University
Date of Award: 2018
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Work organisations in the knowledge economy depend on a different talent: knowledge workers, whose tacit knowledge is valuable to employers in the quest for a competitive advantage. Knowledge work and its concomitant reliance on information and communication technologies facilitate flexible work arrangements (FWA), which in turn enable crossing of spatial and temporal boundaries. These new ways of working are often recommended for women to retain their careers, resolve work-life balance issues and achieve their full potential. However, there is a dearth of studies into experiences of women knowledge workers who use FWA. Furthermore, existing research on knowledge workers not only largely neglects women’s perspectives, but it also presents utopian ideals of freedom, autonomy and prestige often adopting high-status, exclusive knowledge worker conceptualisations. Moreover, FWA and knowledge work fused under one theoretical framework is still under-explored and under-theorised. Therefore, the aim of this research is to better understand how women knowledge workers obtain, experience, and manage FWA. A qualitative approach was adopted involving semi- structured interviews with 30 women knowledge workers in South West England. Template analysis was used to make sense of the data. The research findings emerged inductively and structuration theory (ST) guided the exploration of the participants’ accounts. This study found that the women knowledge workers drew upon their internal and external structures, such as occupational capital, knowledge and people to obtain FWA by the practices of leveraging, rationalising and bargaining. Once they had secured FWA, these women engaged in practices to emulate normativity, compensate, conceal their flexible status, reciprocate flexibility, and create impact. Furthermore, the women’s perceived consequences of utilising FWA were explored in relation to their lives and careers. This study proposes an inductively emergent theory of women knowledge workers’ experiences of FWA with the concepts of Becoming and (Un)becoming Flexible. Although the women knowledge workers had a strong human capital to firstly Become Flexible, then they strived to (Un)become Flexible by realigning with the expectations of constant presence, availability and performance in the eyes of organisational audience. These practices contributed to the weakening of their professional currency, strengthening the ideal worker and gender norms, and reproducing neoliberal values making these women responsible for the unwanted daily incursions of outside commitments. This study fills a number of gaps in current scholarship. Firstly, by focusing on women, this study contributes to a largely gender- neutral knowledge work literature. Secondly, by exploring women’s experiences in the context of the right to request flexible working, this study enhances our knowledge of how FWA are negotiated and obtained. Thirdly, by adopting ST to make sense of the data, this study helps us better understand how women knowledge workers are simultaneously leveraging structures for agentic practices and reproducing structures that may ultimately constrain them.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available