Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development

It is an immense pleasure and honor to write the Foreword for this landmark book. To my knowledge, no other human resource development (HRD) academic has so honestly and comprehensively articulated the complex interplay between identity, its impact on career development, and how HR professionals might respond(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development).

It is no surprise to me that this book breaks new ground. I have known of Julie and her important body of work for several years. However, it wasn’t until June 2016 that I had the pleasure of finally meeting her at the European HRD conference in Manchester, United Kingdom. Some of my initial perceptions of Julie’s identity were shaped by the photo on her university’s website. I was already aware of Julie’s work around gender and sexual orientation and felt comfortable with her status. Looking at her photo, I immediately liked her nice, warm smile with sparkling eyes. Then, I considered Julie appeared strong, confident, and professional, and I suddenly felt a little intimidated at the thought of meeting and working with her. What did that say of my identity?

(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development) As Julie notes, “it is the way that people self-categorize or relate, and who they think they are and who they think others think they are, that impacts development a profound level” (p. 5). Having now met Julie, I am acutely aware of how we subconsciously judge people (including ourselves), and can inadvertently make identity mistakes. Yes, Julie appears strong and professional, but she is also warm and humble. After sparking a friendship, I now see how different her professional profile is to her Facebook photo, which is perhaps unsurprising as mine—and I’m sure many others’—are

(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development)

quite different, too! This immediately raises issues regarding the complexity, multiplicity, dynamism, and situated nature of individual identity. As with emotional intelligence, we need to be aware of our own identities and the impact these can have on the identities of others we encounter in our converging careers—such as trainer and trainee.

Trainers intervene, intentionally or otherwise, and need care when interfering in people’s careers, and thus their lives. So, having allowed subjective perceptions to erroneously shape my judgment of Julie’s social

identity, I now appreciate the importance of HR professionals becoming more aware of “identity intelligence”—but from a human (social/psychological) rather than computer science or defense perspective. The prospect of an encounter with Julie triggered many identity issues for me to ponder. When we eventually met at the conference, we connected through authorial, editorial, and social activities, offering deeper insights into our identities(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development).

First, as a co-chair of the critical, theoretical, and methodological stream, I was judging papers for the Alan Moon Prize. Julie’s autoethnographic paper was outstanding, the best in our stream, and was eventually a close runner-up for this prestigious prize that rewards HRD research that is relevant and accessible to practitioners. Julie linked her own experiences as both trainer and HRD researcher, turning the lens on what shaped her own identity. Julie has practiced for over three decades as a trainer and HR professional and draws upon this rich well of personal knowledge and involvement. Having read the fascinating paper, which I am delighted Julie has developed into one of the chapters in this book, I was eager to attend Julie’s presentation. She delivered a consummate performance(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development)

humble, informative, passionate, evocative. I just sat, watched, listened, and learned much about Julie’s identity and my own—and the impact this can have in our own training worlds. Next, in a different role, but with the same personal qualities, Julie’s identity had an impact in an editorial context. As a leading HRD author with substantial publication experience, Julie had been invited to join the Board of Directors of the Human Resource Development International journal, which I chair. During our first Board meeting together, Julie clearly but quietly demonstrated to me the important and unique contribution she could offer in this small group. The Board is tasked with overseeing the management of the journal through representatives of its two sponsoring bodies: the (European) University Forum for HRD and the (American) Academy of HRD, of which Julie is president-elect. Working with colleagues from quite distinct demographic backgrounds, yet immersed in similar careers (albeit with unique trajectories), I began to reflect again on Julie’s conference presentation. It had moved me so deeply, I almost wanted to just sit back and observe the interactions between this small group of very different personalities and identities. Yet, I soon remembered that I had to chair this meeting and so launched into more functional activities, albeit spliced with some mini-observations and contemplation. Jule was—and is—right! Our identities impact everything we do as HRD professionals, through our practices in the classroom, in research encounters, and in managerial meetings, and these can have profound effects on those whose careers we touch. In the social context, I remember exactly the moment in her presentation Julie mentioned she was a recovering alcoholic, and wondered how we might interact at the conference dinner—where it must be said I do like to indulge in red wine! Julie’s revelation had roused me and caused me to consider my own drinking “career.” Was I troubled by her acceptance and remedy of a problem that could so easily assail me? Would Julie think any less of me for my own indulgence? Would I think any less of her for her abstinence? It never appeared to be an issue, and we engaged in a wonderful(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development)

after-dinner conversation outside, on the cold streets of Manchester. Through our various interactions, I believe we initiated a meaningful relationship, and I am thrilled to be invited to open this book. Writing a Foreword for such an important text is somewhat daunting, not least in light of the outstanding content of the book, and my emerging friendship with Julie. However, having read the work, I am grateful that Julie has shared her profound personal experiences and research, connecting identity and career development in such a beguiling manner. I am sure other readers will derive the same illumination and satisfaction that I experienced. To whet your appetite, the book is organized in eight chapters. In Chapter 1, Julie introduces the context, purpose, and problem of Identity, Meaning, Subjectivity, and Career Development. The purpose is clearly articulated: to raise HR professionals’ awareness by examining the construct of identity and demonstrate why and how it plays a significant role in career identity. But the book is also intended for anyone and everyone, as individual we all contemplate our own fluid identities and how these impact and align with our career development—or not. Identity is a complex yet under researched concept in this emergent field of HR development, in a context where individuals are now increasingly responsible for their own career development. Chapter 2 examines the construct of identity and its relevance to HRD theory and practice, drawing on critical theory. This is a particularly interesting chapter in that it turns the lens inward on HR professionals. It explores how we negotiate our personal and social identities. Julie asks us to reflect on our own identities, as trainers and career developers, and consider our impact on others. Chapter 3 explores how identity is constructed and how career success is subjective, focusing on the perplexing question: “Who am I?” Julie introduces the notion of a contested and matrixed identity. Chapter 4 considers demographics, and the matrixed nature of identity through the nexus of age and gender, including racial and sexual orientation, ability/disability, and educational and professional qualifications. This was fascinating, critiquing existing theories as masculinized, assuming identity homogeneity and linearity. Chapter 5 focuses on the various (micro) life events that impact identity, particularly family, marriage/divorce, returning from military deployment, addiction, and criminality. Chapter 6 develops this theme, drawing our attention to other factors that impact identity, such as (meso) organizational strategies and (macro) national adult/higher education and HRD policies and global issues. Chapter 7 synthesizes earlier discussions of HRD, identity and career development, culminating in a comprehensive typology of influencing factors and HR responses. The final Chapter 8 offers conclusions and recommendations for HRD practice and research, arguing there is a “business case” for HRD professional to become more aware of, and be able to respond to, issues of identity. This book will be invaluable for many readers, with extensive examples and implications for practice and ideas for further research. Julie invites HR professionals to consider the ways in which “identity shapes and crafts peoples’ hopes, dream, fears, joys and abilities” (p. 7). Practitioners can find new ways to think of and enact their practice in the knowledge that their enhanced awareness of individuals’ (including their own) complex, constructed identity impacts the career development of all they encounter/ coach/teach. Julie also reaches out to those entering or changing careers. This book can help us steer our journey through the various contours of career development. I think this book also appeals to another audience. Researchers can draw on Julie’s autoethnographic approach to help illuminate both their own career development and their effect on others. This might activate more interdisciplinary (psychological, sociological) and phenomenological and (auto)ethnographic research to more deeply understand attitudes toward and processes of career development from trainer and trainee perspectives. Researchers unfamiliar withautoethnographic approaches can be comforted by Julie’s deeply personal(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development)

revelations of her struggles of—and obvious success—in career development, and finding a way to write herself into this compelling story. To conclude, Julie has shared with us her profound and enlightening views on the nature of identity and career development and what HRD professionals need to consider in their own practice. I encourage you to read this fascinating book and sincerely hope you enjoy it and learn as much as I did. Thank you, Julie(Identity, Meaning, and Subjectivity in Career Development).

Bangor University, UK Sally Sambrook


Pages: 175

Year: 2017

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