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Striving for holistic integration : how lesbians come out on top Rostad, Faith

Abstract

Little has been written about women's career development that specifically addresses the process of women becoming successful in their occupations. As well, the literature has neglected to include the experiences of lesbians. Yet there is reason to believe that lesbians, by virtue of their lesbian identity, may have unique work experiences that are different from heterosexual women, leading to different paths to occupational success. The purpose of this study was to investigate the process of lesbians becoming successful in their occupations by utilizing a grounded theory approach. Fifteen women (age range 35 to 69 years) who were identified as successful in their occupations (i.e., they were perceived as leaders in their fields) and who represented a variety of occupational fields, were interviewed about their experience of becoming successful in their careers. The grounded theory analysis of the data led to conceptual development, ordering, and a description of a psychological process "striving for holistic integration." The central process begins by these women "managing their lesbian identities in the workplace." The process involved women "taking risks and being out" at work along a continuum that represented women "working 'in' silence," "working quietly," and being "boldly 'out' spoken." Other salient categories in this central process included: facing ongoing fear, handling homophobia, and fighting for social change. Holistic integration involved participants integrating their lesbian and work "worlds." This integration facilitated enhanced working relationships based on honesty, and, for many participants, holistic integration became transformational as they became empowered by being open and disclosing their lesbian identities in the workplace. This process involved a dynamic, synergistic interaction between the influencing conditions (i.e., changing social times, personal background, serendipitous conditions, love and support, and a gay friendly work environment) and the unfolding of the process of striving for holistic integration. This research contributes to our understanding of lesbians' occupational success and is an important first step for further research. The women in this sample were primarily out in their respective fields and experienced benefits from doing so, despite the barriers many of them encountered along the way. The findings of this study provide guidance for future research in the area of lesbian career development and success.

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