Climbing invisible walls: The construction of career (im)mobility in liminal professional roles

Stefanie Gustafsson, Laura Empson

Research output: Contribution to journalConference articlepeer-review


Drawing on 67 interviews with paraprofessionals and professionals in four leading law firms, we examine the construction of career immobility in liminal roles. Specifically, we analyze how individual paraprofessionals make sense of and experience staying in a role that they expected to be transitional and temporary. We find that in professional environments ideal forms of movement exist which evoke feelings of career immobility for those who cannot fulfill them. Further, we show that individuals experience career immobility in different ways, informed by how they frame career liminality in their career narrative. Practices enacted in response to experiences of career immobility are cognitively or behaviorally focused but do not challenge the ideal as people hold on to the belief that eventually they will be admitted to the professional sphere. This belief set limits to their willingness to engage in career practices that would effectively increase their career mobility within the profession. This study challenges the premise that mobility has become prevalent in contemporary careers. Instead it demonstrates how career mobility and career immobility mutually inform each other. It suggests that career immobility emerges through people’s constructions of themselves as immobile in their career. As such it shifts the focus away from people’s actual movements and the factors constraining them to how they make sense of and experience movement in their careers, and the lack thereof.
Original languageEnglish
JournalAcademy of Management Proceedings
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jul 2018

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Management of Technology and Innovation
  • Industrial relations


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