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The ‘mirrored ceiling’: young undergraduate student women’s expectations of gendered career opportunities and constraints

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posted on 09.08.2021, 13:58 by Emma BatesEmma Bates, Louise HoltLouise Holt
This paper examines young women university students’ expectations of gender inequalities in the workplace, drawing upon semi-structured interviews with twenty-one young women at three mid-high ranking universities. Our original findings show that the young women were factoring-in expectations of the gendered workplace as a backdrop to their career choices and life-planning. Critically, these young women are relatively privileged and educationally successful, yet are framing their career choices in light of expectations of gendered constraints. We label this phenomenon the ‘mirrored ceiling’, as these expectations are reflected back onto young women’s current experiences and life-mapping. Crucially, these pervasive understandings of gendered workplaces and career trajectories were transpiring at a critical moment when young women are making crucial choices about their careers and lifecourses. The specific environment of the university is a pivotal space of formal and informal learning, and the circulation, sharing and (re)production of the mirrored ceiling. This is also a key moment in time and space when careers services, and specific industries could intervene in proactive ways to demonstrate how gender inequalities are being challenged. This paper therefore uncovers an important, and previously overlooked factor influencing gendered career pathways, which needs addressing by careers services and broader university practices.



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • Geography and Environment

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Social and Cultural Geography


Taylor and Francis


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© The Authors

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This is an Open Access Article. It is published by Taylor & Francis under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Licence (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0). Full details of this licence are available at: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/4.0/

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Dr Louise Holt. Deposit date: 14 May 2021