Opt-in or opt-out: exploring how women construe their ambition at early career stages
Career Development International
© Emerald Publishing Limited 2017
Reason for embargo
Purpose: This qualitative study challenges existing models of career ambition, extending understanding of how women define and experience ambition at early career stages in a professional services organisation. Method: Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 20 women from a professional services organisation, who were aged 24-33 and had not yet reached managerial positions. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and template analysis was conducted. Results: The analysis revealed four main themes in the women’s experiences: subjective, dynamic ambition; frustrated lack of sight; self-efficacy enables ambition; and a need for resilience versus a need to adapt. The findings indicated that women do identify as ambitious, but they vary in the extent to which they view ambition as intrinsic and stable, or affected by external, contextual factors, such as identity-fit, barriers, support and work-life conflict. Implications & limitations: These results indicated insufficiency of current models of ambition and a new model was proposed. The model explains how women’s workplace experiences affect their ambition and therefore how organisations and individuals can better support women to maintain and fulfil their ambitions. Originality/Value: This study extends and contributes to the redefinition of women’s career ambition, proposing a model incorporating women’s affective responses to both internal (psychological) and external (organisational) factors. It provides further evidence against previous individual-level claims that women ‘opt-out’ of their careers due to an inherent lack of ambition, focusing on the interplay of contextual level explanations.
This is the author accepted manuscript. The final version is available from Emerald via the DOI in this record.