“I am a materialistic feminist; I firmly believe that it takes a minimum of material wealth to think, and that an economic life is essential for gaining autonomy and becoming less dependent, and therefore less vulnerable”, declares Hélène Lee-Gosselin, professor of Management at Université Laval.
The researcher points out that society has long been divided into two distinct spheres: the economic/political sphere, the exclusive domain of men, and the social/care sphere, reserved for women. Furthermore, these two spheres are hierarchical, with the first conferring greater status, power and resources than the second. In this type of social configuration, both men and women are limited to only half of the possible experiences that make up a human life. Similarly, for a long time, employers picked their employees from one half of the labour pool, limiting themselves primarily to men, in particular for the more desirable jobs. This reality continues to be felt in certain sectors. “Rational behaviour would be to hire the best possible candidates and to focus on diversity,” claims Lee-Gosselin.
Professor Lee-Gosselin is greatly interested in the question of women in the work world and is currently involved in a number of research projects. One of these, funded by Status of Women Canada and TECHNOCompétences, is exploring the low proportion of women in the information technology (IT) sector. The study’s objective is to identify factors that promote or hamper women’s careers in these fields, based on in-depth interviews with participants in the software, video game and management and computer consulting fields. All interviews are conducted jointly with a colleague from the IT industry. This interdisciplinary collaboration helps to properly interpret the interviews and make sound recommendations.
Understanding women’s careers
The researcher is also involved in another project, this one funded by the FRQSC and headed by Sophie Brière, associate professor of Management at Université Laval. The project entails group and individual interviews in sectors in which women were rare 15 or 20 years ago, but are more numerous today. Lee-Gosselin is conducting the study in the world of corporate finance, while others are focusing on engineering, business law, public safety, administration of post-secondary institutions, etc.
“We observe how these women are doing, how they perceive the evolution of their careers and what obstacles stand in their way, in order to identify current issues,” summarizes Lee-Gosselin. The interviews have already led to a number of observations. For example, the higher a female employee rises through the ranks, the more she is expected to be flexible on short notice. Those who wish to maintain a certain balance between their professional life and their other obligations perceive this as a major obstacle to the advancement of their careers.
This goes to show that there are still many changes that need to be made to corporate culture, and researchers are in a position to help with this task. “The co-creation of knowledge with actors in the field is crucial and is one of the most stimulating aspects of university research,” concludes Lee-Gosselin.