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Shifting discourses : the work and friendship experiences of women chartered accountants



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The number of women in the Chartered Accounting (CA) profession has continued to rise since the 1970s; women now make up one-third of working CAs in Canada (Tabone, 2007). Yet, the number of women in the upper levels of the profession remains very low. The main purpose of this dissertation is to understand how women CAs experience and talk about the CA profession and to explore the implications of the CA context for the development and maintenance of friendship among women CAs. The ways in which power and agency are exercised in the micro-politics of the everyday lives of women CAs and the nexus of relations through which individuals develop and enact their identities is explored through open-ended interviews and discussion groups with Western Canadian women CAs. The dominant ideology of professionalism constructs both individual and collective identities while structuring workplace relations. The findings of this study demonstrate that female CAs believe strongly in elements of professionalism such as meritocracy, excellence, client service, and commitment but that their understanding is gender-neutral and differs from the dominant masculinist interpretations and practices. The participants’ narratives reveal a particular pattern of engagement with the profession characterized by stages of early optimism, disillusionment and the glass ceiling, negotiation and the glass box, resignation, and justification. All participants encountered a glass ceiling, or invisible barriers to advancement, as a result of the conflicting meanings of the ideals of professionalism. As the women attempted to negotiate solutions to the constraints imposed by the profession’s elite, masculinist discourses were mobilized by those in power in new ways resulting in further constraints upon the women, containing them within a “glass box” that limited their career mobility in all directions and may contribute to gender segmentation in the profession.Masculinist discursive practices have a significant impact not only on the participants’ career aspirations, but also on their friendship relationships, which are, in part, constituted by their relationship to the profession, their need for support against masculinist strategies, and their choice of gender identity strategy. Friendships do not increase activism as the participants’ feel powerless to create change and fear reprisals.



domesticity, gender, discrimination, friendship, accountancy, professionalism, part-time work, discourse, ideology, career patterns, identity



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Interdisciplinary Studies


Interdisciplinary Studies


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