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Non‐linear careers: desirability and coping

Elisabeth Schilling (University of Applied Administrative Science NRW, Cologne, Germany)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 2 November 2012




This paper aims to analyse the question of whether women freely choose to pursue a non‐linear career or whether they are forced by their circumstances to take this path.


Semi‐structured interviews with older female employees, who had non‐linear careers, were conducted. The qualitative analysis of women's biographical narratives was achieved through adopting a socio‐biographical approach. The subjective view of success in the non‐linear careers was addressed.


All respondents would have preferred a linear career. However a non‐linear career is accepted as a possibility to follow one's own professional interests and to cope with professional insecurity. Moreover women discover strategies to cope with insecurity, organizational injustice or life course stereotypes, such as networking, additional qualifications, and making the change over to a self‐employed position.

Research limitations/implications

As all interviews were conducted with German professionals and a small qualitative sample, the results need an adaptation for other countries, younger generations and different social strata.

Social implications

The need for social political concepts for non‐linear careers became evident. The risk of the non‐linear careers should be pooled between individuals and organizations.


The study found that some decisions, which aim to avoid professional insecurity (e.g. additional qualification), produce non‐linearity and hence increase the insecurity. The importance of social constraints for individual career decisions has been emphasized in the paper.



Schilling, E. (2012), "Non‐linear careers: desirability and coping", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 31 No. 8, pp. 725-740.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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