1 What is a career?
The term ‘career’ means different things to different people. A career has traditionally been understood as a lifelong identity, and often involved working for the same organisation or in the same professional field. However, in recent years perceptions and the reality of careers have changed, in both academic research and everyday understandings. This means that an organisational career for life doesn’t apply in many sectors; this is also true of STEM based careers – a career is a lifetime narrative that can change over time. For example, many career experts talk about the ‘boundaryless career’ and protean careers. These terms describe a career being led by the individual rather than a conventional pathway, one that may span a number of organisations, job roles and working patterns across a lifetime of working.
Over the course of a lifetime, careers are often interrupted and non-linear, and this is especially true for women with children who are likely to take a career break or have periods of part-time work. There are, of course, other reasons that people have periods out of work, either through choice or otherwise. In fact, the idea of an uninterrupted career is based on a rather old fashioned model which no longer fits most of the workforce. More and more people don’t have one single job, but may instead have what is known as a portfolio career, working on projects for several organisations or individuals; and sometimes combining this with a salaried part-time or full-time job. The world of work is changing and previously held assumptions about careers are no longer appropriate. However, especially in some STEM industries, the traditional model of a career for life is still considered to be the norm, so employers are not always aware of the challenges of coming back after a career break, especially for women.
Now listen to these returners talk about what ‘career’ means to them and note any differences or similarities with your own experiences.