Overall the findings suggest that most women are reasonably happy and content at work, largely due to workplace flexibility and the support of the organisation when it comes to private matters that require time away from work or working from home. It was also suggested that older women in higher education express greater engagement with work as they are often viewed as having more seniority and wisdom than their younger counterparts.
“Age gives you credibility with seniority I have to say. […] I’m 48 but a lot of people say I look younger. It’s not necessarily helpful because people will think that, you know, when you look younger or act younger or whatever, you may not be ready for senior role or more responsibility. They think you probably don’t have the shoulders for it. But when you’re older and you have grey hair and things like that, and your face is starting to show signs of age, and you have a very good track record in whatever you do, I think age in women adds credibility.” (Fay, 48, Academic at Uni A, pre-menopausal).
However, gendered dimensions are recurrent themes in terms of promotion opportunities and preferences, with most departments/schools heavily dominated by men in senior/higher positions. Moreover, lack of organisational or supervisory support for women experiencing menopausal symptoms, such as adequate cooling in offices, can directly impact work engagement. Other considerations, such as the changing landscape of academia and education, can also provide the basis for anxiety and uncertainty about one’s position within a university. However, overall, most women found that universities are spaces that are open and inclusive, with a good mix of young and old across institutions.
“It shows that all sorts of people fit – so young people fit in this space, people with little kids fit in this space, people with grown up kids fit in this space, older people are welcomed back. We welcomed back our older students, we welcomed back our retired staff, so I think it’s that idea that the University is an inclusive community.” (Janet, 54, Academic at Uni A, post-menopausal).
There was minimal reference to positive emotional attachment to an organisation. However it was acknowledged in terms of the presence of ongoing opportunity and support which directly correlated with affective commitment. Moreover, job satisfaction features more prominently than organisational commitment, but for less psychologically connected reasons.
“I’ve been very happy. […] I think the environment has been just a wonderful environment for it’s kept me interested, I’ve learnt, I’ve grown, I have had access to information. I have worked for an organisation that has looked after me and encouraged me – I feel like I’m spoilt sometimes.” (Lisa, 52, Professional at Uni B, peri-menopausal).
Some women were bound to the organisation for family-related reasons, which meant that although they were not committed to the place themselves, they were tied because of their parental responsibilities to their children. This was often bound up with generational attributes about a cohort-base perspective on work.
“Because I’m a baby boomer with that sort of work ethic, sometimes I just forget not to, you know. I just sort of keep doing what I’m doing and as I say part of it is probably because I have got my son and I need to be in a regular routine for him.” (Cassie, 53, Professional at Uni A, post-menopausal).
Job flexibility featured as a recurring theme, relating to how participants perceived levels of job satisfaction. Flexible work practices across both institutions meant that women were more likely to find satisfaction in their work when demands from the private sphere, such as picking up children or working from home when unwell, were not treated as barriers to career progression in any way. However, there were also other elements that affected job satisfaction, such as the need for a certain level of gender ‘performance’ which was required in order to feel comfortable. This was particularly the case in organisational spaces or Faculties dominated by men. In this sense, job satisfaction was achieved by employing strategies to divert attention away from the female body, aesthetically and biologically.
“Well I would, it’s part of the whole thing of ***(refers to SciEngMed faculty), that is kind of the high road and the path of least resistance. You can take the high road, but generally most women in engineering take the path of least resistance and that is, broadly, it helps to be androgynous as possible. […] a lot of men are not comfortable with this sort of conversation. It’s just to do with the history of this sort of profession really, just very male dominated and I’m pretty sure that’s why it doesn’t come up, because you don’t want to point out.” (Hannah, 41, Academic at Uni B, pre-menopausal).