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Opting out: professional women develop reflexive agency

Ingrid Biese (The Swedish School of Social Science, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland)
Marta Choroszewicz (The Department of Social Sciences, University of Eastern Finland, Joensuu, Finland)

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion

ISSN: 2040-7149

Article publication date: 15 March 2019

Issue publication date: 9 August 2019




While previous research on opting out has been mainly about women who leave their careers altogether, the purpose of this paper is to follow a broader definition of opting out to investigate the process and experience of women developing agency as they leave masculinist career patterns to adopt alternative career solutions.


Building on an interdisciplinary framework and a narrative approach, this paper analyses the opting out and in processes of women managers in Finland and the USA.


This paper demonstrates four micro-strategies that the women used to develop individual agency in their processes of opting out of masculinist career models and opting in to alternative solutions for work. These micro-strategies are redefining career success, transcending boundaries, renegotiating working conditions and keeping in touch with professional networks.

Practical implications

Organisational leaders can use the knowledge of the strategies that empower women in their opting out processes when making decisions regarding working practices. In order to retain their employees, organisations should be supportive of employees’ individual agency and their participation in developing work structures, as well as providing more opportunities for two-way blurring between work and family instead of the current one-way blurring where work spills over to family life, increasing work-family conflict.


This paper develops a framework to better understand women’s agency during the process of opting out of corporate careers and opting in to solutions like part-time work and self-employment, deepening the current understanding of these solutions and presenting the micro-strategies they use to develop reflexive agency.



The authors would like to acknowledge the anonymous reviewers who helped make this paper what it finally became with their constructive comments and suggestions. The authors special thanks go to the reviewer who suggested the term micro-strategies, which became a central part of our results.


Biese, I. and Choroszewicz, M. (2019), "Opting out: professional women develop reflexive agency", Equality, Diversity and Inclusion, Vol. 38 No. 6, pp. 619-633.



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