In order to better understand and improve productivity for women from the core menopause group aged 50 to 64, we’ve looked at an extensive study by Deborah O’Neil and Diana Bilimoria from the Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland, Ohio, Entitled:
Women’s Career Development Phases
There are three phases in all
Career phase 1: idealistic achievement
Career phase 2: pragmatic endurance
Career phase 3: reinventive contribution
Were focusing on phase 3 but first we want to provide some context with a brief overview of Career Phases 1 and 2.
Career phase 1: idealistic achievement
The driving force of phase 1 or early career, for women aged between 24-35, is idealistic achievement.
Women in the idealistic achievement phase will most likely base their career choices on their desires for career satisfaction, achievement and success, and their desires to positively impact others.
Women in this phase are most likely to see themselves in charge of their careers and will doubtless be proactive in taking strategic steps to ensure their career progress. They are achievement-oriented and motivated to succeed and see their careers as opportunities to make a difference and as paths to personal happiness and fulﬁllment. They believe their futures are replete with unlimited possibilities to do and have it all and they see their careers as opportunities to realise their dreams.
Career phase 2: Pragmatic Endurance
The driving force of phase 2 or mid-career aged between 36 to 45, is pragmatic endurance. Women in this phase are pragmatic about their careers and are operating in production mode, doing what it takes to get it done. Their career patterns are reﬂective of both ordered and emergent tendencies. They have a high relational context and are managing multiple responsibilities both personally and professionally. Perhaps the high relational context of the women in phase 2 can be attributed to two factors:
(factor 1) They may have been in the world of work long enough to recognise that no matter how internally driven they were (while in career phase 1), to a large degree their career development is now impacted by others; professional others such as managers and colleagues, as well as personal others such as spouses, children, families, and friends.
(factor 2) These women may be moving into a career and life phase in which they are questioning the essential centrality of careers in their lives, given the other increasing demands on their time. They may be grappling with demands from multiple directions such as work, home and community and trying to split themselves into ever-smaller pieces to serve them all. At this point, it’s worth noting that while the core menopause age is 50 to 64, we provided evidence in module 1, that for some women menopause starts much earlier, therefore, some women from career phase 2 may already be grappling with issues that would otherwise fall into career phase 3.
Career phase 3: Reinventive Contribution
The driving force of phase 3 or advanced career, for women aged between 46 and 60 is reinventive contribution. The women in this phase are focused on contributing to their organisations, their families and their communities. They are most likely to attribute personal and professional others as having had input into the direction of their careers and are likely to reﬂect a stable, planned career path or ordered career pattern.
The women in phase 3 have experienced their personal lives being subsumed by their professional lives at some point during their careers. For many of these women, those circumstances were as a result of divorce or death of a spouse, initiating a renewed focus on work and career concerns, however, as they have advanced further into their careers, these women have reconceptualised and reclaimed their careers and their lives as opportunities to contribute and to be of service to others without losing sight of themselves in the process.
The phase 3 women are likely to embody the values of bygone days, the era in which many of them came of age, and to take an activist stance on issues of fairness and justice. Their careers are seen as learning opportunities and as a chance to make a difference to others. Success for these women is about recognition, respect, and living integrated lives. Women in the reinventive contribution phase of their careers will be more likely to work in arenas that provide them an opportunity to contribute meaningfully through their work.
Implications for Phase 3 women and organisations.
Research strongly suggests that organisations need to understand, recognise and support women’s career and relationship priorities in order to retain talented professional women. Yet in the study by O’Neil and Bilimoria they found strong evidence that while organisations may agree on the importance of that support, they often fall short in practice, resulting in a lack of women who reach the higher rungs of management which means:
Better organisational efforts are needed to ensure that women receive;
- On-going coaching and mentoring,
- To work for managers who support and encourage their career development.
- have access to organisational resources and relevant opportunities to develop their skills.
- Are acknowledged for their unique talents and contributions.
- And are recognised for aptitude learned through life experiences and non-traditional work histories.
It’s imperative that organisations do a better job of matching resources to women’s changing needs in order to allow them to continue contributing meaningfully during each phase of their careers.
Clearly a critical need for women in phase 3 is; a better integration between work-lives and non-work lives particularly for those navigating the debilitating, albeit temporary impact and outcomes of menopause. Organisations can support this by providing a climate of acceptance, compassion, and support, not only during the menopause transition period but also for the many responsibilities and obstacles women have and the often difficult choices they are faced with.
Organisational policies supportive of women being active contributors in all spheres of their lives are necessary requirements for enabling this desired integration. For example, women in phase 3 may need ﬂexible working hours, alternative work arrangements and job restructuring to assist them in mediating the critical junctures of the many different roles they play in their lives.
Without the recognition and support for their multiple life roles, these women may ﬁnd themselves unable to fully embrace their work responsibilities.
Managers must recognise that the careers of these women are embedded in their wider life contexts and therefore would benefit from working with each individual to identify the necessary resources that will allow them to do their best possible work. And before you throw your hands up in horror exclaiming working with each individual, its really not that difficult with the right tools and strategy in place.
It’s important to note here, organisations that create work environments that do not disadvantage women wanting to lead integrated lives will clearly have a competitive edge in keeping their most talented employees. Further, the unique talents and abilities of the women in career phase 3 need to be recognised and utilised. These women have a wealth of career and life experiences on which to draw in support of organisational objectives.
Managers can tap into this well-spring of knowledge and these women’s highly evolved relational skills by placing them in leadership positions, in team or task-force oriented roles and by signing them up as mentors for junior members of the ﬁrm.
It is particularly critical for women in career phases 1 and 2 to have access to successful female role models from phase 3 and to see concrete evidence that their organisation is supportive of their needs and desires for career and life success. Also, the women in career phase 3 are in the unique position to become proactive members of their workplaces and champions of women in earlier career phases. Also, they can work to create fair and just organisational policies that contribute to the quality of work environments for all workers. And of course, they’d be ideal contributors to a menopause in the workplace strategy.
It’s likely that some women from phase 2 (mid-career) and many women from phase 3 ( advanced career) make up the layers between middle and upper levels of management in many organisations. This group of women may be most at risk of leaving their jobs and quitting the corporate world altogether, or otherwise downgrading their contributions significantly, due to dissatisfaction with their workplace circumstances and organisational environments. The failure to understand the particular dynamics of these women in mid and advanced careers will likely result in the continued under-representation of women at senior organisational levels, an outcome that organisations can ill afford.
So now we know, in order to increase productivity in your workplace among those women in the core menopause age, it’s in your best interest as a manager and leader to Identify women from the career phase 3 group and give them access to things like:
- Flexible working hours
- Alternative work arrangements
- Job restructuring
- On-going coaching and mentoring,
- Managers who support and encourage their career development.
- Organisational resources and relevant opportunities to develop their skills.
- A climate of acceptance, compassion, and support, while making sure they are
- Acknowledged for their unique talents and contributions and
- Recognised for aptitude learned through life experiences and non-traditional work histories.
It’s worth noting here that in finding ways to take care of these women from both a human and organisational standpoint, is to the equal benefit of your employees and your company.
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