The purpose of this paper is to examine the usefulness of Hakim's preference theory in the understanding of the attitudes of women retail senior managers and directors towards their career and non‐work lives. It provides a critical analysis of the main tenets of preference theory and evaluates the extent to which women have “free choice” in their careers.
A qualitative methodology consisting of 13 in‐depth interviews with women at senior executive and director levels in retailing was adopted. The interviews examined women's career paths and uncovered the choices and constraints impacting on their career progress and other aspects of their lives.
The findings demonstrate the complexity of careers and choices. While several women talk about the choices they have made, it is apparent that these choices have been constrained by extraneous variables, both at an individual and organisational level.
The findings from the paper can enhance practitioners' understanding of some of the choices and constraints women make in their working lives, which in turn might lead to improved organisational policies for women to better accommodate work‐life balance issues.
The paper questions whether choice equates to preference and assesses the usefulness of Hakim's preference theory as a means of understanding the careers of women in contemporary organizations.
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