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Reconsidering Work–Life Balance Debates: Challenging Limited Understandings of the ‘Life’ Component in the Context of Ethnic Minority Women's Experiences

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Abstract

This article argues for a broader, more diverse approach to the ‘life’ component of the work–life balance equation. This is discussed within the context of ethnic minority women's experiences of balancing their work and personal life, contending that there are restrictions in our understanding of lives that may fall outside the standard white western model. A key aim of this work is to question existing understandings of work–life balance debates that focus almost exclusively on gender and childcare, ignoring issues around ethnicity, culture and religion. A social constructionist framework was adopted for this study, which acknowledges an interaction between structure, culture and agency. Primary data were collected in the form of semi-structured, in-depth interviews with 26 minority female participants, 15 ethnic minority men, eight white women and six white men, all employed across a range of industries and occupations. Although the focus of this paper primarily lies with ethnic minority women's experiences, data from ethnic minority men, white women and men are incorporated in the analysis where appropriate or useful. The empirical data have indicated that both white and ethnic minority women struggle with balancing work and personal life demands to a greater extent than their male counterparts. However, an ethnicity or cultural dimension was apparent, as ethnic minority women often had to deal with additional cultural, community or religious demands. It is argued, nevertheless, that a deeper understanding of the diversity within groups is necessary to avoid essentializing experiences and needs. By acknowledging different forms of life, a more realistic analysis can take place which can inform organizational policy and practice.

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