Linda Schweitzer was supposed to be an architect. And, if she wasn’t going to be an architect, she was going to be an engineer, and then maybe a mathematician. But today, Schweitzer is a highly distinguished Professor of Management.

Linda Schweitzer is a Professor (Management) in the Sprott School of Business at Carleton University

This is just part of Schweitzer’s real career journey; there’s much more to the story. When Schweitzer started on this journey, she believed, as all young adults do, that she would be on a linear, logical, and upward climb to the top of the mountain to finally reach the pinnacle of her career. Insert clapping and cheering here. The plan was laid, the time and efforts put forth to make this climb—up, up, up we go. Insert broken record scratching here. That’s not at all that happened in her life, and that’s not at all that happens in most people’s lives. This is exactly what the overarching goal of her research is all about.

Schweitzer is examining the “modern career” and her research is aimed to add clarity and robustness to the career journey—one that paints a truer picture of the realities we face through life. Schweitzer is committed to ensuring that we shift our thinking from the proverbial mountain we climb to the stones we step to get to the other side of the creek.

“There is no mountain. No straight line up. Instead, we want to redefine the idea of careers like stepping stones across a creek. This path is not linear, rather it is multidimensional and multifaceted and requires an open mind to navigate.”

Schweitzer’s work is dedicated to developing solutions to help shift societal views around careers with the specific aim of simply taking the pressure off. There is an increase in the number of young people who are suffering from pressures to have a “successful career” but what that looks like is unique and dynamic for everyone. Schweitzer and her co-authors have been working under a SSHRC grant to study modern careers and have recently published a book: Generational Career Shifts: How Matures, Boomers, Gen Xers, and Millennials View Work (Emerald Publishing, 2019).

From an in-depth study they developed a substantive contribution to the understanding of how generations differ in career expectations, values, and attitudes in the workplace. And, moreover, was the first study of this breadth in Canada. Their work is helping organizations understand generational differences to better recruit, motivate, and retain different age cohorts—to better understand just how generations are different from one another to better manage their age-diverse workforce.

As the group worked to understand generation diversity and flesh out solutions to help businesses deal with changing demographics, it became evident that there was more to this story.  When testimonials from over 120 individuals of their academic and career journeys were analysed they were surprising similar. Decisions to go one direction or another were not preplanned and linear, instead, their decisions were influenced by many factors that happened serendipitously or unexpectedly. Their paths weren’t predetermined; their life and careers happened moment to moment.

The challenge is that all the existing academic theories still propagate the idea of linearity. And what is more, this arguably old paradigm is being fueled by schools, business, and even during the early years at home by parents. Schweitzer is working to bridge the disconnect through education: “It’s not a destination, it’s a journey,” by working with guidance counselors and career centres to redefine careers to foster a more diverse learning environment where education has a more robust profile and is less specialized. Her goal is to mitigate the pressures that young people face today when preparing for their futures.

“We must change how we approach the idea of careers. It’s no longer that one has a beginning, middle, and end to their story, but instead, they may start, move sideways, have to go around and start from a new beginning.”

So, what lead Schweitzer to where she is today? A series of unplanned events— her stepping stones. Realizing that becoming an architect wouldn’t work out because she wasn’t artistically inclined (stone), she decided to become an urban planner, but once in the program, she hated it (stone). She found herself in the math program (another stone); she was flourishing academically, but it just wasn’t interesting, “it was boring in fact.” Her boyfriend at the time was in an engineering program and she thought engineering would be a good fit.

Perhaps serendipitously, Concordia University had a new program in Building Engineering (stone), she was accepted, and off she went. She flourished academically in the program and as a result, was offered a work scholarship for an engineering firm (stone), worked, and well, hated it. But, she did very well, they liked her, and to keep her, asked her to create her own job (dream stone right!?). She did. And, yup, hated it. Wait, there’s more! She set her sights on a master’s in engineering, but was dissuaded when one of her professors said women didn’t belong in engineering (ill-advised stone). While doing her MBA (stone), she worked as a project manager (stone), got married (stone), and had two children (stone, stone).

Eventually, through a series of more events—more stones—Schweitzer found herself with a PhD in Organizational Behaviour, and is now an academic and has been for the last thirteen years. It’s not where she thought she would be, but she certainly didn’t fail. On the contrary, she is a leader in her field, making major contributions to the understanding of generational diversity in the workforce; and of course, redefining the “modern career.”

Perhaps her most notable achievement as a researcher and faculty member, is her fostering of the love of learning and her passion for reshaping the way we think about our lives; to be proud of the steps we take and to embrace a diverse and meandering journey across the creek. And, believe it or not, she really likes where she is today—combining her skills as a leader, teacher, and researcher. And the truth is, she wouldn’t change her journey in any way.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019 in
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