Selma Therese Lyng

Work Research Institute, Oslo, Norway

Selma Therese Lyng is a sociologist and works as a researcher at the Centre for Welfare and Labour Research at the Work Research Institute in Oslo, Norway. Her main research interests are conditions, mechanisms, processes and consequences of inclusion and exclusion in meritocracies. She has studied such issues in empirical contexts as secondary school and high-commitment elite professions. She is currently finalizing her PhD within the research project“Gender, Participation and Achievement in Working life and Family life,” financed by the Norwegian Research Council as well as the Norwegian Association of Lawyers and the Norwegian Bar Association.

The data collected within this research project –  co-conducted by Lyng and colleague Sigtona Halrynjo – consist of:

  • survey data including 3924 male and female respondents aged 29-50, drawn from a random selection of lawyers, MBAs and graduate engineers. This survey includes data on respondents’ career and parental trajectories, allowing for analysing developments and long-term consequences of work-family interplay.
  • in-depth interviews with male and female elite professionals representing different career trajectories, positions and work-family adaptations, as well as management representatives from the largest and most prestigious corporate law firms in Norway.

This sample of professionals living in a well-developed, family-friendly welfare state is particularly apt to explore the processes and mechanisms upholding the statistically gendered pattern of traditional work-family adaptations entailing that even highly career dedicated women  - in contrast to men - reduce their work commitment after childbirth. Challenging the adequacy of established explanations emphasizing constraints vs. individual preferences, publications by Halrynjo and Lyng on these data examine the circumstances, mechanisms and steps in a seemingly individual process of making the shift in commitment from a promising career to a family-friendly job. Moreover, these analyses demonstrate how generous parental leave arrangements designed to enhance gender equality and work-family balance by simply reducing practical constraints may have limited - or even counterproductive - impact within high-commitment occupations where the ‘irreplaceability’ of workers is taken for granted. The findings indicate that unless the culturally (re)produced discourses, demands and expectations of both work and family are exposed and challenged, even intentionally gender neutral work-family policies will continue to facilitate mothers’ career withdrawals, expressed as modified individual preferences.

Selma Therese Lyng