“I should be so lucky”: women returners narratives of transition between family and work

Herman, Clem (2010). “I should be so lucky”: women returners narratives of transition between family and work. In: Equality Diversity Inclusion Conference, 14-16 Jul 2010, Vienna, Austria.

URL: http://www.edi-conference.org/programme.pdf


Maternity leave and the transition back to work is a crucial episode in the life course of women workers in general but takes on particular dynamics when the return is into male dominated professions such as science engineering and technology. Research shows that women in these sectors struggle with an in/visibility paradox whereby they are highly visible as women but invisible as engineers (Faulkner 2009). Motherhood exacerbates these gender differences within many organisational cultures and therefore the transition back into employment often reveals underlying assumptions within organisations which returning women must find a range of strategies to navigate.
In this paper, the experiences of women SET professionals taking career breaks is explored through their own narratives using ‘positioning’ as a way of examining the meanings they give to events surrounding their maternity or career breaks and subsequent return to work. Interaction with line managers, colleagues, family members and wider social networks during this crucial transition stage are framed and interpreted according to different narratives - so for example serendipity or ‘luckiness’ is often used to explain success. By adopting these different narrative positions, these women returners can be seen to be engaging with and making sense of a complex set of external and internal messages about their roles and identities during the crucial transition into working parenthood. Yet their narratives must also be seen as time-bound and as ‘biographies in the making’ rather than static accounts which may include taking multiple and contradictory positions

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