This study investigates the way in which lifelong learning influences the career progression of women in the corporate sector.
The two key concepts that underpin this study are lifelong learning and human capital development (HCD). These concepts were used to understand women’s career choices and professional advancement with the goal of enhancing learning for the benefit of the individual, the organisation and society. This approach is thus premised on an understanding that access to learning is critical to HCD, which is a key factor if an organisation is to improve its performance.
This comparative study used a mixed method research design. Face-to-face interviews were conducted with senior women managers and questionnaires were administered to junior workers at a mobile telecommunications network in Nigeria and South Africa. Three major themes emerged from the analysis of the findings. Firstly, with respect to career choice, the findings revealed that the decisions women make when choosing a career are influenced by support from families and friends. It was also found that the communication sector supported their aspirations for career development. Secondly, the findings revealed that internal motivation in terms of a desire for rapid promotion, a large income and the flexibility and opportunities to change jobs if the women wished to do so help to determine their job satisfaction. Thirdly, the findings point to the importance of lifelong learning for women as it assists in bridging gaps in income, entering a strong organisational culture, accessing senior management positions and, thus, achieving their goals as women. It is also possible that continuous learning in the form of opportunities to improve qualifications and skills may offer a buffer against gender discrimination and may create pathways for women to build their careers. In sum, access to promotion, a supportive environment and good remuneration were key factors for job satisfaction.
Perhaps the most abiding idea that emerges from the data is that the women in this study have a strong sense of ambition. Contrary to popular belief that women are not ambitious, the women in this study show that they have strong career aspirations. They did not perceive the fact of being a woman to be a determinant in their ambitions. In addition to this, the study makes a strong case for the value of lifelong learning, whether formal or informal, as a mechanism for women in the corporate sector to build their career opportunities.