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Women's career development phases: Idealism, endurance, and reinvention

Deborah A. O'Neil (Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)
Diana Bilimoria (Department of Organizational Behavior, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, USA)

Career Development International

ISSN: 1362-0436

Article publication date: 1 May 2005




This study aims to explore the nature of women's career experiences over the life course by examining career patterns, career locus, career contexts, and career beliefs.


A qualitative, inductive approach to data gathering and analysis was employed, using life story surveys, semi‐structured interviewing, thematic analysis, grounded theory, code development and descriptive statistics.


The data revealed distinct patterns of how women's careers develop over time, particularly with regard to the impact of career contexts (societal, organizational, and relational) and women's own changing images of their careers and career success. A three‐phase, age‐linked model of women's career development is proposed: the idealistic achievement phase; the pragmatic endurance phase; and the reinventive contribution phase.

Research limitations/implications

Future studies should test replicability of these findings to determine whether this three‐phase model is embedded in the particular socio‐historical context of the times in which the particular women in this sample have lived or is universally applicable across different eras and changing realities.

Practical implications

Better organizational efforts are needed to ensure that women receive ongoing coaching and mentoring, work for managers who support their development, have access to organizational resources and opportunities to develop their skills, are given challenging assignments, are acknowledged for their unique talents, and are recognized for aptitude learned through life experiences and “non‐traditional” work histories.


This is a rare, women‐only study that looks at the career dynamics of women over the life course.



O'Neil, D.A. and Bilimoria, D. (2005), "Women's career development phases: Idealism, endurance, and reinvention", Career Development International, Vol. 10 No. 3, pp. 168-189.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2005, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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