Perceptions and reflections of mothers’ working lives: narratives from women on their second, or subsequent, maternity leave.
McDougall, Basia Halina
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A longitudinal study addressed the question: what can women’s stories tell us about their working lives? Of specific interest was the importance of maternity leave to career which is treated by academics and organisations alike - as a period of absence. Furthermore, all maternity leave periods are considered equivalent. Feminist epistemological frameworks, drawing on psychological understanding, were used to choose methods and interpret findings. Six married women were interviewed during their second or subsequent maternity leave (T1) and re-interviewed approximately three years later (T2). The women represented typical, middle-class families of two or more children. The women had worked full-time before motherhood and full or part-time after their first child, most at a lower status/pay. The women used the management of their first maternity leave to inform their work plans. By T2, one woman opted to take a career break; two returned to part-time work; two were focusing on unpaid community work; one woman had just given birth to her third child. The transcribed stories captured in-depth reflections and self-analysis. Biographic narrative interpretative method identified thematic coherence across time. Semi-structured interviews explored sense-making of working life trajectories. Interpretative phenomenological analysis identified shared perceptions of a ‘man’s working world’, which ‘good employee’ sense-making permitted the women to largely be unaffected by - up until their second child. This ‘good employee’ master theme disintegrated, whilst the master theme of ‘a woman in a man’s world’ remained strong, developing into ‘traditional stay-at-home rationalisations’ and perceptions of ‘anti-mother organisations’. The women’s community network together with self-development during the time of their second or subsequent maternity leave led to three conclusions: a. Second or subsequent maternity leave is qualitatively different from first maternity leave, critical to working-life trajectories. This is an unidentified feature in career theory. b. The women’s understanding of work, job and career, change as a consequence, emphasising the need for a shift in organisational perceptions of maternity leave. c. The interviews resulted in powerful and emotive events supporting future use of this form of narrative collection and analysis.