Gender and Age in the Professions: Intersectionality, Meta-work, and Social Change
Sociologists have paid little attention to the shifting significance of gender to professional work. Nevertheless, there is evidence that the meanings attached to gender, and the gendering of work, have shifted over time, such that the experiences of newer cohorts of professionals differ from those of professionals in previous generations. In this paper, we show how combining intersectionality theory and life course approaches facilitates the exploration of inequalities by gender, class, and race/ethnicity across generations and age cohorts. We present empirical research findings to demonstrate how this approach illuminates the convergence of gender and age in the professions to confer privilege and produce disadvantage in professional workplaces. Subsequently, we introduce the concept of meta-work—hidden, invisible and laborious work performed by non-traditional and disadvantaged professionals—through which they endeavor to cope with structural inequalities embedded in the professions. As professions and professional workplaces are still designed primarily for middle-class, dominant-ethnicity men, professionals who do not fit these categories need to invest extra time and energy to develop individual strategies and tactics to cope with professional pressures in and around their work. Meta-work is intrinsically linked to the traditional and normative ideals surrounding professional roles and identities, and therefore is intimately connected with professionals’ sense of self and their feeling of belonging to professional communities. Meta-work, and the tactics and strategies that result from it, are important coping mechanisms for some professionals, enabling them to deal with rapidly changing work realities and a lack of collegial support. Finally, we highlight several areas for future research on the intersections of gender and age in the professions.
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