Work Role-Motherhood Role Constructions & Conflicts in Workplace Interactions.

Date01 July 2018
AuthorMaheshwari, Mridul

Introduction & Literature Review

Professional working women face workplace conflicts arising out of the combined effect of social expectations, pressures and career role aspirations (Kelan, 2009). Many dimensions of this problem have been examined (Pas et al (2011) and the findings suggest that the experiences of women at work are determined by gender constructions and conflicts (Garey, 1999) which in turn have a bearing on career continuities and curtailments (Cleveland, Stockdale & Murphy, 1999; Desai, 1999; Gulati, 1999; Kanter, 1977).

This study focuses on a particular stage in the evolution of women's career continuity--entry into motherhood roles in their early careers which creates attendant dilemmas and anxieties due to organizational-managerial dispositions and biases. Again it must be emphasized here that there is a danger of bias even in discussing issues like work roles and motherhood roles, because such studies reuect "cultural biases that indicate: (a) mothering is a barrier to paid work and (b) having a (paid) job is more valuable and desirable than staying at home." (Fung & Heppner, 2015:253-54). This study is sensitive to this bias and it must be clarified that the focus in this study is not to reinforce this bias but to evaluate critically how these biases play out in the lives of ordinary working mothers in balancing work as well as motherhood roles and responsibilities.

It is this early motherhood stage, which Fursman (2002a; 2002b) has termed as the "expecting labor" stage that this study seeks to explore through a grounded exploration into the lived experiences of professional working women. Even on this issue, there are previous studies like the effects of having children on work roles (Van Wel & Knijn, 2006; Vlasblom & Schippers, 2006), the conflict between domestic unpaid care work and professional wage work (Crompton, Brockmann & Lyonette, 2005); attitudes of others at work regarding motherhood and stigmas associated with women who along with mother roles aspire to pursue work and careers (Himmelweit & Sigala, 2004; Marks & Houston, 2002; Nordenmark, 2002) and employers' attitudes toward working mothers (e.g. Lewis, 2001; Stone, 2007). Social identities evolve from early childhood socialization (Chugh & Sahgal, 2007) which serves the function of orienting the girl child to the discriminatory hierarchical power relations that place men as privileged in both social and work spaces (Swaminathan, 2008). This also reinforces the woman's role as mother and home maker with less emphasis on career aspirations (Mehta & Kapadia, 2008). Thus, male dominant social spaces construct mothering role demands as contra indicated with work role demands and expectations (Arendell, 2000) and point towards work-family tensions due to conflicting social space and work space roles demands (Arendell, 2000; Beets et al, 2007; Marks & Houston, 2002).

Male dominant social spaces construct mothering role demands as contra indicated with work role demands and expectations.

However, what is constant across studies is the socially constructed meanings assigned by patriarchal social arrangements to work role aspirations when working women enter the motherhood stage (Parikh & Garg, 1989). Such pressures are experienced more by women in professional roles as mothering roles are perceived as barriers in fulfilling organizational expectations (Ghadially, 2007). As a result, many women are unable to achieve work role aspirations thus compromising the pursuit of careers (Ely & Rhode, 2010). A study in the German context has suggested that, "German women who have accumulated more years of education and longer work experience at the time of marriage delay motherhood more. On the other hand, women with higher labor income and a higher contribution to household income delay motherhood less" (Gordo, 2009:57). And these issues are acute in the early stages of motherhood when they are expecting (Mainiero & Sullivan, 2006; Fursman, 2002a; 2002b) leading to current withdrawal from formal employment while also facing the prospect of reduced opportunities on re-entry at higher management levels (Mazumdar, 1999; Mehta & Kapadia, 2008). An extract of an interview from a Korean study could not have described the problem better, "I was going to keep my job [after marriage], but I was asked to move to a trivial position. I told them: Why do married women receive this unfair treatment? I can work exactly the same as before I married. Getting married doesn't mean I can't work. I want to keep my position." So they sent me to a very difficult department. I couldn't bear it. It was so tough. I was pregnant, and the work was difficult. I couldn't get over it, and finally I submitted a letter of resignation." (Jung & Heppner, 2015:257)

The motherhood choice is a matter of social, cultural and political choice of a woman but it comes with twin socially reproduced stigmas -first, at work where mothering roles of a woman are seen as incompatible with their working identity (Marks & Houston, 2002); and second, on the social identity front when women delay marriage to pursue careers or when they continue working even after entering motherhood (Mazumdar, 1999). However, problems emerge when social role pressures come into direct conflict with contractually defined work role expectations, (Vijayanthi, 2002) especially in terms of time allocation and priorities (Johnston & Swanson, 2006). This struggle is experienced more by women in professional roles who give priority to professional work to attain a position of significance at work (Marshall, Godfrey & Renfre, 2007). This is so, as Thapan (2001) has concluded, educated urban working women experience that their own work aspirations and opportunities are often in direct conflict with pre-existing social structures within which the motherhood role holds a central place (Krishnaraj, 2008).The motherhood phase brings changes both at the personal and family levels which in turn eventually influence work role performance (Hakim, 2002; Pixey, 2008; Stone & Lovejoy, 2004).

Method of Study

In this study, the researchers attempted to explore work role constructions and conflicts in early motherhood experiences in workplace interactions of professional working women through a grounded qualitative research approach (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1994; van Manen, 1998). In-depth interviews were conducted with eight professional women subjects holding managerial positions in organizations using the snowball technique (Patton, 2002). The data for the study was collected through conversational unstructured interviews with an indicative interview guide as suggested by van Manen (1998). All the precautions required for examining human subjects according to the best practices, protocols and principles as applicable were adhered to strictly. The subjects and the geographies have been held anonymous to the maximum extent feasible to protect sources.

The subjects at the time of interviews were either expecting or had become mothers in the last 1-2 years only and had experienced both pre-delivery and post-delivery...

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