Last night I read this blog entry on the Thesis Whisperer about why people quit a PhD (clearly I was still feeling a bit tired out by it all….) http://thesiswhisperer.com/2014/03/26/why-do-people-quit-the-phd/
It was an interesting read in itself, but what I didn’t expect to find was a possible explanation that could feature in my own thesis.
My research is about the experiences of working mothers who seek to combine paid work with parenting using a flexible pattern of work. Part-time, compressed hours, job-sharing etc.
There is plenty of research that shows that women who work part-time (the most common and the most typically female work-life balance strategy adopted on becoming a parent) has big implications for pay, prospects and promotions over the life course.
And because it is mostly women that do it, the opportunities (or lack of) to progress a career whilst working flexibly make flexible working a gender equalities issue of some considerable scale.
Part of my lit review has been investigating why working mothers quit organisational life. Central debates on that are the extent to which women choose the life they prefer at a given point in time, or whether they are presented with compromised choices because of the structures, resources and cultural assumptions about what they could and should be doing instead of competing with the male ideal and unencumbered workers.
So I return to the point about the link I spotted between my research and what the Thesis Whisperer was reporting about why people quit a PhD….
Thinking that you are the only one experiencing something, and the problem therefore is you.
So as I understand it in the PhD context, when PhD students are stuck, say, feeling lonely/isolated/over-whelmed/un-motivated…. it is possible to feel like you are the only one going through that experience; that everyone else can manage it. You can’t. The problem is therefore you, and the solution therefore is to remove yourself from all those other super-achievers.
As a working mother of young children who perhaps works for an organisation that is winning awards for its family friendliness, being congratulated in its industry for its efforts to recruit women, celebrated by policy-makers for its equality and efforts to reward women and men fairly, for opening flexible working up to everyone….
… if you are finding the experience of managing work life and family life a bit much, you would be forgiven for thinking that it must be a failing on your part. The rub comes when women don’t talk to other women about these feelings, or anyone for that matter. In these kind of A-type, competitive environments it isn’t that usual for women to open up to other women who are going through the same thing. I have facilitated enough focus group discussions in organisations to see the light-bulbs go on as women listen to other women FINALLY, talking about their experiences and challenges, such as convincing bosses and colleagues that although they work part-time they are committed to their careers and expect fair reward and recognition for their work, and to be able to grab more opportunities if they want them.
The risk for the women who quit is damage to their confidence, self-belief and self-esteem. If they quit thinking that the problem was them, they might not have the confidence to come back again or start something new. They miss out, organisations miss out, WE miss out on more women reaching more visible and influential positions in corporate and public life.
So that is why I am off to the library today. To do a bit more reading about pluralistic ignorance and its potential application in my work. It feels good to be back on track!