Career Development Association of New Zealand


Te Mōhiotanga

Social justice and women's careers

By: Dr Suzette Dyer

Date: 07 Nov 2018

Category: Article reviews

Tags: women, gender, descrimination, equality, symposium 2018, social justice

Social justice and women's careers

There are some exciting trends in women’s careers. However, gender discrimination still shapes the kinds of career outcomes experienced by women. 

In terms of women’s careers, there have been some exciting trends worth celebrating. We see more women engaging in tertiary education and post-school training. More women have made significant inroads to senior leadership positions and are entering non-traditional professional roles and the trades (Ministry of Education, 2016; Statistics New Zealand, 2015b). In addition, the #MeToo movement has raised global awareness of sexual harassment, and in New Zealand there are some exciting moves towards pay equity and positive changes to paid parental leave entitlements (Employment New Zealand, nd).

Despite these gains, women continue to experience significant gender conditioning in terms of the kinds of education and training programmes they engage in, their concentration in a narrow range of industries and occupations and their persistent underrepresentation in senior managerial roles (Statistics New Zealand 2015a,b,c). Women still experience the gender pay gap (Statistics New Zealand, 2014) which is exacerbated for mothers who are paid even less than other groups (Sin, Kabir and Pacheco, 2018). Women are also more likely to work fewer hours and experience underemployment while at the same time contributing significantly more to unpaid work in the home (Statistics New Zealand, 2016, 2015c).

These differences in women’s employment and career outcomes are shaped by family responsibility, gendered socialisation and government policies that fail to take into account the full range of gender discrimination. Within organisations, women are more likely to experience sexual harassment, be hired for jobs that are not linked to career paths, and to experience gendered definition of their skills, which manifests in pay inequalities. Women are also more likely to receive poor performance appraisals and fewer professional development opportunities. Women are also disadvantaged by long-hours work cultures and are more likely to encounter obstacles to their careers. Obstacles are often characterised as sticky floors, glass doors, walls and ceilings, and women are less likely to benefit from class escalators, which promote less qualified men above women.

O’Neill and Bilimoria (2005) demonstrate how these gendered experiences play out in women’s career development. They show how women’s career orientation changes throughout their lives and reflects their expanding, unpaid work contribution as well as their experiences of gendered discrimination at work. For example, the early career phase captures the experiences of young women between the ages of 25 and 35. In this phase, women typically have not had children, and believe that they are in control of their careers. By the mid-career phase (between the ages of 36 and 45), women are more likely to have children. In this phase, women begin to recognise that their careers have been shaped by discriminatory employment practices and by the competing demands between their paid and unpaid working lives. At this stage, women’s careers are also being shaped by their children and spouse, and by their managers and co-workers. By the time women enter the advanced career phase, they begin to appreciate that their career has been shaped by responsibilities within their personal lives, and their career orientation shifts to wanting to make positive differences in their communities and organisations.

If we are to have social justice for women in their careers, then the gendered employment processes and outcomes must be addressed, and indeed, a number of strategies have been offered to do so. For example, engaging women in mentoring and networking relationships have been proven to enhance women’s career outcomes. However, organisations must address sexual harassment, long hours work cultures and the way women are hired, appraised and trained. Governments must also address the full range of discrimination that women face, including developing fairer pay structures, addressing long hours cultures, implementing quota, and strengthening parental leave entitlements.



Employment New Zealand (nd) Types of parental leave.

Ministry of Education (2016) Profile and Trends: New Zealand’s Workplace-based learners. Tertiary Sector Performance Analysis, Ministry of Education, Wellington, New Zealand

O’Neil, D. A. and Bilimoria, D. (2005) Women’s Career Development Phases: Idealism, Endurance, and Reinvention, Career Development International 10(3), 168–189.

Sin, Kabir and Pacheco (2018) Parenthood and labour market outcomes, Ministry of Women, Wellington New Zealand 

StatsNZ, (2016) Persons underemployed and actively seeking work, retrieved from Infoshare

Statistics New Zealand (2014) QuickStats 2013 Census about income

Statistics New Zealand (2015a) 2013 Census QuickStats about education and training

Statistics New Zealand (2015b) Women at Work: 1991-2013. Statistics New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand,

Statistics New Zealand (2015c) Census 2013 QuickStats about work and unpaid activities

StatsNZ, Female (no date) Labour force participation rate, by age group, year to September Quarter, Retrieved from Stats NZ:

Dr Suzette Dyer

Dr Suzette Dyer

Suzette Dyer PhD, teaches at the Waikato Management School, University of Waikato. Suzette has a keen interest in women’s careers and has been teaching and researching in this area for nearly two decades. She has always embedded social justice in her teaching and research.