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Title: "Embracing the middle years" : how do female executives aged 45 and over describe their experience of midlife and how does this experience influence their career decisions?
Author: Ryan, Lucy Susan Alison
ISNI:       0000 0004 8501 6529
Awarding Body: University of Liverpool
Current Institution: University of Liverpool
Date of Award: 2019
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The purpose of this research project is to explore how professional women aged 45+ experience their midlife and how this experience impacts on their career decisions. Across academic and organisational literature, echoed by the media and anecdotally, women's middle age has traditionally been regarded as one of decline, exacerbated by menopause and empty nest syndrome. Many studies exploring this age group focus on the problems endured by women at midlife, depicting a narrative of frailty spanning the physiological experience, cognitive degeneration and emotional uncertainty, with such assumptions positioning mid-life women poorly in terms of organisational status. In contrast, alternative research directs attention to the notions of freedom and liberation, with older women supposedly absconding from their full-time careers as their children 'flee the nest'. All of the above remains true for some women, yet the findings demonstrate further complex, and interesting, narratives contributing a more nuanced perspective than the existing binary descriptions. Here, in order to illuminate the experience of midlife women from this more nuanced angle, I draw upon the theoretical lens of Abjection (or disgust and fascination) to understand the position of the older female body at work. Contributing to debate in the arena of bodies in the organisation, I develop and present the theoretical proposition of 'Abjection as Normal'. This theory suggests that older professional women are not only systemically excluded within organisations on three counts - they are not young; not male and (still) not following a linear career path, but also that this exclusion is normalised. This means, exclusionary language and practices are so deeply embedded within the organisational setting they are invisible and ignored. The findings further highlight that multifarious loss at midlife can project professional middle-aged women into a transition period, theorised as a 'fragile threshold', as they 'stare death in the face'. In emerging from this stage, data demonstrates a desire for progress and achievement, with some 70% of participants intending to step up within, and outside of, their organisation. From a theoretical position of 'Not Me/Female Revolt', many of the women in this study did not want to be associated with decline, or to leave their organisations, seeking a flexible way to navigate the significant caring issues surrounding their lives at this age while still actively pursuing career advancement. There is a strong sense that as these women attain power, they are driving through a new organisational agenda where there is a more considered approach towards gender, age and flexibility. At a time when women over 45 are increasingly moving into positions of authority, albeit slowly, this research makes a particular and timely contribution to debate surrounding the combination of gender and age, and the impact of midlife on career decisions.
Supervisor: Gatrell, Caroline Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral