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Nurturing Identity, Professional Identity: New Mothers’ Experiences of Breastfeeding and the Return to Paid Employment Sandy Kristin Piderit and Latha.

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Presentation on theme: "Nurturing Identity, Professional Identity: New Mothers’ Experiences of Breastfeeding and the Return to Paid Employment Sandy Kristin Piderit and Latha."— Presentation transcript:

1 Nurturing Identity, Professional Identity: New Mothers’ Experiences of Breastfeeding and the Return to Paid Employment Sandy Kristin Piderit and Latha Poonamallee Weatherhead School of Management Case Western Reserve University

2 Research Questions How do identities develop? What factors influence the extent to which personal identity and professional identity come into conflict, need to be negotiated or juggled, and are eventually harmonized (or not)? How do changes in individuals’ personal identities affect their conceptions of themselves at work, and their productivity at work?

3 Identities and Roles Identity -- a cognitive representation with emotional associations; a label for how an individual conceives of himself or herself Role -- a set of behaviors that an individual performs, which are associated with others’ expectations

4 How are roles and identities connected? Our assumptions: Repetitive behaviors in a social context lead to the adoption of roles and the tailoring of those roles to personal identities. Once a role has been adopted, conforming behaviors reinforce the current identity, and nonconforming behaviors lead to identity modification. Spending time with others who share a particular role can change individual’s conceptions of the rigidity or flexibility of that role’s expectations.

5 What happens when one identity is well- formed, and a new identity begins to form? E.g., what happens when a Christian becomes a lawyer? Or a car salesman? What happens when a Girl Scout leader realizes she might be a lesbian? What happens when a working professional becomes a mother?

6 Context Professional (public) identity -- lawyer, manager, doctor, professor, etc. Personal (private) identity -- mother, breastfeeding woman, lactivist Rationale: Women with significant investments in their work roles are more likely to have formed strong professional identities. The roles of mother and of breastfeeding woman are highly charged in US society.

7 Relationships between identities Mutually Incompatible Reinforcing or conflicting Process of resolving conflicts or incompatibilities: - Negotiation - Juggling - Integration - Harmonization

8 Public vs. Private Identities and the Assumption of Segmentation Hidden (Private) Identities vs. Public (Revealed) Hidden identities, such as a diagnosis with a chronic illness, can play a different role in guiding individuals’ behavior if people want to keep the identity hidden (if they want to continue “passing” for healthy, or for normal) compared with the role they play for people who want to reveal them. Breastfeeding is an interesting identity to study, because some people want to respect others’ discomfort and keep their breastfeeding practices private, while others want to reveal their identity in order to influence social norms. The Assumption of Segmentation In the literature on work-life conflict, there is some evidence that men prefer segmentation, while women prefer integration.

9 Lactivists




13 Preliminary Study Results 8 interviews conducted so far First two questions of protocol [in random order] Imagine that you had just met another mom on a Saturday morning. What 5 things about yourself would you tell her so she could start to get to know you better? “I love being a mom… met my husband at work 7 years ago… finished MBA last year… also love my job, but I’m not an overachiever… I’m the only female product manager in a setting where most of my peers are male engineers (and my undergrad degree was in music!)” “But I wouldn’t say any of that at work. I’d talk about how I have worked my way up from the catalog department 7 years ago, how I aggressively pursued and was promoted into different positions… A key part of this culture is the President’s belief that everyone is equally important here, from the plant employees to the top managers.”

14 Preliminary Study Results First two questions of protocol [in random order] Imagine that your boss had just introduced you to a new coworker on a Monday morning and asked you to take this person to lunch to help her settle into the office. What 5 things about yourself would you tell her so she could start to get to know you better? “I’m a mother of 2, my youngest is 19 months old, I’ve been married for 11.5 years. [This place] is a great place to work, you’ll like it here!” “I’d say the same things to another mom on a Saturday morning, and if I found out that she was a breastfeeding or a cloth-diapering mom like me, I’d ask questions about her experience and share some of mine.”

15 Sample questions, continued How do you think about being a mother and what it means to you? “It changed everything. You think of it abstractly before you become a mother…. Then when you become one, it changes your viewpoint so much… you suddenly have to focus your entire life around what these children want or what is best for them to do. I’m happy with the change. “ “I have learned so much about God’s unconditional love through becoming a mother. I had a hard pregnancy, my baby came early, I have been away from work longer than I wanted… but the sacrifices, like Jesus’, were easy to make, [because the love just welled up in me].”

16 Sample questions, continued How did you decide the method you would use to feed your baby? “It didn’t occur to me to choose anything else…. My mom breastfed [me and my siblings].” “I always assumed that I would breastfeed. My sister-in-law used formula, and my sister is an avid breastfeeder… I’m sort of middle- of-the-road.” Did you talk about breastfeeding with anyone at work? “I talked with my boss about my plans for pumping. I told him I just wanted to make sure that I could use the fridge and so forth. He said ‘I don’t think I could stop you!” (laugh) “My [male] coworkers joked that I wouldn’t really want to come back after maternity leave…. My boss, the President, told me that of course I was welcome to pump in the bathroom… the HR person told me I could not put my milk in the shared refridgerator…. I expected a little more support from her, since she’s a woman.”

17 Identity formation is gradual Motherhood becomes an identity well before a mother gives birth… and sometimes, breastfeeding Identity does as well.

18 More data and more surprises Although public health research suggests that older, more educated women are more likely to breastfeed successfully, we found an interesting contrast in two of our interviews, which were conducted in the same organization. Context: client-services, small office (15-25 employees) Male dominated at the top of the hierarchy, female- dominated in support staff roles. The supervisor did not reveal her desire to pump at work, while the staff member was able to have peers “cover” for her while she pumped twice daily.

19 Same organization, different stories A supervisory level employee: “I have one daughter, she is now three and half now, I breastfed her for the first six months, I went back to work in four months, so it really became an issue for me for two months. At that time, what happened for me is that I was in a brand new job coming back from the maternity leave, a much bigger job, a promotion, a supervisory job, I was supervising eight instead of two, a lot of change in the organization. Here at … a brand new boss, a lot of change happening at the moment. In addition, my work is mostly with external people. people are walking here all the time. I really couldn’t figure out how to continue breastfeeding or even pumping throughout the day, easily. So I ended up, from the fourth month, cut back to breastfeeding once in the morning, once before I left for work, and once when I came home, and then once at nighttime. That is what I did for a while, but then it got to be too hard, and then I cut back to once in the morning and once at night. Then I just stopped. At that time, around six months. So that is my experience. The decision at that point was largely driven by, I didn’t know fully as much then as I do now about the benefits of breastfeeding and I didn’t feel comfortable here trying to figure out how to make it work, I thought it was up to me to figure out, it was so overwhelming that it was easier to say, well, I will just do what can work.”

20 Same organization, different stories -a staff member in the same organization: “When I came back to work, I knew that fifteen to twenty minutes, I got to come into this room, it was quiet, I got to sit here, take off my shoes, doze off a little bit or talk on the phone, I would just have some space and time for myself, which I wouldn’t have had, if I weren’t nursing or pumping. I pumped twice a day, by the time I went back to work in January, I was nursing five times a day. He was a champ, he easily switched between breast and bottle. Coming back, we are a small office, I definitely benefited from this office being mostly women, my office and my job were conducive to me taking these breaks and the body, I have a lot of friends, I know someone who takes forty five minutes to pump, that wouldn’t have worked for me. whereas I come in and out in fifteen minutes I am done, so that is half hour a day, I used to do it between meetings, tell my friends, people were so respectful of me and the room, I had a little sign…. This is not a lactation room, I just converted it into one, when I was coming back, I was working for… she was a friend of mine, we had a good relationship, I told her that I needed to pump, and she said that fine do what you need to do, we will find a room for you. I couldn’t do it in the open, no one uses this room, it only became a problem when there was a program and someone was using this room and on those days, I could always find another room. I was so lucky about it, it is a clean room, well lit, I have friends who pump in cars and bathrooms.”

21 Individuals’ preferences play a key role… Individuals’ preferences for revealing breastfeeding behaviors and identity publicly shape their ability to access breastfeeding support and access relational networks that cross the work- nonwork (public-private) boundary. Individuals’ preferences may change dramatically due to interaction with relational networks, and may affect their conceptions of themselves and their productivity at work.

22 Relational networks play a key role …in surfacing options, supporting choices, and assisting with harmonizing discordant expectations. A variety of features of work role and organizational context can affect the type of relational networks a pregnant woman or new employed mother can access, including: - job type (clerical/hourly vs. professional/salaried) - organizational policies - managerial practices - male-dominant culture - whether male colleagues have employed spouses

23 Current Dilemmas How can we deal with the diverse conceptual labels for work-family and work-life interfaces, and for examining the relationships between two identities? How can we take the temporal and emotional dynamics of identity formation and modification into account? How can we measure the process of role adoption and identity modification in a longitudinal survey study?

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