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Career theory for women and minority ethnic groups

Career theory for women

Theories that inform current practice in the UK were primarily formulated to explain the career development of men. Women's career development is, however, generally different from men. It is often more complex (e.g. conflict between work and family) and is often characterised by different career stages or patterns (e.g. intervals away from full time employment to assume care responsibilities). Various pieces of research (e.g. EOC, 1999) indicate that:

  • women's labour market participation is more restricted than men i.e. they are under-represented in a variety of fields and professions, and enter low paying and low status jobs;
  • women abilities and talents are underused i.e. they are less likely to advance to higher levels in their occupational fields

Betz (1994) presents an overview of issues relating to women of particular relevance to careers counselling. Citing numerous research studies, she establishes the importance of employment for the psychological (as well as economic) well-being of women. She charts the nature of women's participation in the labour market in North America (similar to the UK) which has increased dramatically over the past four to five decades, discusses occupational segregation (horizontal and vertical) and highlights the particular implications for career theories. Since the majority of women are employed in restricted occupational areas and at lower status levels, Betz questions whether career theories which are based on the assumption that occupational choice involves either matching jobs to abilities or 'self-actualising' as part of career development apply to women at all (1994 p8).

In response to the perceived inadequacies of current theories underpinning the practice of careers counselling and guidance, approaches specifically designed to respond to the needs of women are being evolved. Five such approaches are summarised below.

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Approaches to careers counselling for women

Gottfredson's theory of circumscription and compromise

Gottfredson's developmental theory of occupational aspirations (1981) is applicable to both women and men. She set out to explain 'how the well-documented differences in aspirations by social group (e.g. race, sex, social class) develop' (1983, p204). Strongly influenced by John Holland (she was a student in his research centre), and a sociologist by professional training, Gottfredson's theory represents an attempt to reconcile the different perspectives of psychology and sociology (1996, p180).

The theory is concerned with both the content of career aspirations and how they develop. Gottfredson acknowledges the influence of the theories of both John Holland and Donald Super. It is similar to these earlier theories in that it proposes that career choice reflects the process of attempting to implement an individual's preferred self concept and because it argues that career satisfaction depends on the match or fit with the self-concept (Gottfredson and Lapan, 1997). It is different from psychological theories (Gottfredson, 1996, p181) since:

  • it views career development as an attempt to implement primarily a social self and secondarily a psychological self
  • it focuses on how cognitions of self and occupations develop
  • it treats vocational choice largely as a process of eliminating options and narrowing choices
  • it considers how individual compromise their goals in coming to terms with reality as they try to implement their aspirations

The model contains several basic tenets, summarised by Brooks (1990, p374) as:

  • People differentiate occupations along dimensions of sex type, level of work and field of work.
  • People assess the suitability of occupations according to their self-concepts (ie. their images of who they would like to be) and the amount of effort they are willing to expend to enter the occupations. Occupations that are compatible with the self-concept will be highly desirable; those that are not will be highly undesirable.
  • Elements of the self-concept that are vocationally relevant are gender, social class, intelligence, interests, values and abilities. Occupational aspirations are circumscribed according to these elements of the self-concept.

Vocationally relevant elements of the self-concept are developed during four stages of cognitive development:

  1. 1st stage: Orientation to size and power. The child develops 'the concept of being an adult. Ages 3-5.
  2. 2nd stage: Orientation to sex role. The child develops a gender self-concept. Ages 6-8.
  3. 3rd stage: Orientation to social evaluation. Is concerned with developing abstract concepts of one's social class and intelligence. Ages 9-13.
  4. 4th stage: Orientation to Internal Unique Self.Involves a refinement of one's distinctive values, traits, attitudes and interests. Age 14+.

As people progress through these 4 developmental stages, they successively reject occupations:

  • as unsuitable for their gender
  • then as inappropriate for their social class and ability level
  • and finally on the basis of personal interests and values

The result is a zone of acceptable alternatives, or a 'set or range of occupations that the person considers as acceptable alternatives' (1981, p548). It is only under unusual circumstances that a person will reconsider an occupation rejected as outside this range.

People's occupational preferences are the product of job-self compatibility (i.e. with the zone) and judgments about the accessibility of jobs. 'Accessibility refers to obstacles or opportunities in the social or economic environment that affect one's chances of getting into a particular occupation' (1981, p548). Perceptions of accessibility are based on such factors as availability of a job in the preferred geographical area, perceptions of discrimination or favouritism, etc.

Because the jobs people view as suitable for themselves are not always available, they must compromise. The typical pattern of compromise is the following: people first sacrifice interests, then prestige, and finally sex type. In other words, given two choices - one that fits one's interests but not one's sex type, and one that does not fit one's interests but is viewed as sex-appropriate - the latter will be chosen.

Gottfredson's explanation of why women are in lower-status, lower-level positions is that these occupations are compatible with their self-concepts and views about accessibility. Her 1996 formulation of the theory is 'the same in most respects as the 1981 version' (1996, p183). It differs 'in providing a clearer definition and account of compromise, more discussion of cultural change and/or race and gender differences, and more guidance on counseling applications' (Gottfredson, 1996, p183).

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Implications for practice

1. Individual career counselling should encourage both exploration and realism. In particular:

  • why certain options seem to be out of the question or why some compromises are more acceptable or accessible than others
  • by encouraging clients to re-examine the full range of occupations in the economy (challenging circumscription)
  • helping clients develop strategies for enhancing the individual's competitiveness in obtaining the preferred option and succeeding at it

2. Careers education programmes should span stages 2 (ages 6-8) through to 4 (ages 14+) and should:

  • be sensitive to the mental capabilities of the age group
  • introduce students to the full breadth of options in a manageable way
  • display for youngsters their circumscription of alternatives so that its rationale can be explored
  • be sensitive to the dimensions of self and occupations along which circumscription and compromise take place (sex type, social class, ability, and vocational interests) so that their role, positive or not, can be explored where appropriate

3. Exploration and constructive realism can do much to free individuals from unnecessary circumscription and compromise. Caution should be exercised in assuming the role of change agent on behalf of the client.

Gottfredson and Lapin (1997) discuss the results of field testing an instrument referred to as 'Mapping Vocational Challenges (MVC)' (1997, p432) which is based on the premises of the Gottfredson's theory of circumscription and compromise (1981, 1983 and 1996). It is described as an example of 'theory-based assessments and interventions to counteract inappropriate circumscription' 1997, p432) which aims to increase awareness of choices which have been rejected by clients as unacceptable, since circumscription is a question of 'deciding what one wants to avoid' (Gottfredson and Lapan, 1997, p429). Findings include that high school and middles girls and boys agreed in their ratings of gender difference for different types of work (p438), that 'one group of seventh grade girls linked their avoidance of careers currently dominated by men to their fears about encountering sexual harassment on the job (p439) and 'assessed and expressed interests are often discrepant (p440).

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Astin's need-based sociopsychological model

Astin's (1984) primary intent was to construct a theory that would describe more adequately the career-choice process of women, as well as explain recent changes in women's career aspirations. It is also applicable to men. She attempted to develop a model of career choice and work behaviour that attempted to combine both personal (psychological) and social forces as well as their interaction. Her need-based sociopsychological model contains four key constructs: motivation; expectations; sex-role socialization; structure of opportunity. Thus - both psychological and sociological variables are included in the model.

  • Motivation: All humans are motivated to expend energy to satisfy 3 primary needs - survival (primarily physiological survival), pleasure (intrinsic satisfactions from work) and contribution (need to be useful to society and be recognised for one's contributions). These 3 needs are the same for men and women - though they can be satisfied in different ways.
  • Expectations: Concerned with the individual's perceptions re: kind of work that will satisfy needs and the types of work that are accessible and that the person is capable of performing. They differ for men and women because of the sex-role socialization process and the structure of opportunity (e.g. distribution of jobs, sex typing of jobs, discrimination). During the sex-role socialization process, a person is rewarded and reinforced for gender-differentiated behaviour. The result is that the individual internalizes social norms and values regarding appropriate sex-role behaviours and choices.
  • Sex-role socialisation and structure of opportunity: Interacting with the sex-role socialization process is the opportunity structure, which is different for men and women, and is not static. Social changes modify the opportunity structure for all. Thus, the interactive relationship between sex-role socialization and the opportunity structure is what accounts for the changes in women's aspirations and choices in recent years.

The socialization process probably sets limits to changes win the structure of opportunity, whereas the structure of opportunity ultimately influences the values that are transmitted through the socialization process (Astin, 1984, p122)

Astin's contribution represents the first invited theoretical statement on women's career development (Fitzgerald et al, 1995, p85), yet it has had limited impact on practice to date. Fitzgerald et al (1995, p86) suggest that it may be 'best thought of as a general conceptual framework rather than an articulated theoretical statement', since its value lay in the way in which it directs our attention to important factors influencing women's career development Astin's most important contribution, they contend, is the attention she focused on the structure of opportunity.

Implications for practice

Astin's model suggests some general diagnostic directions that can be pursued by counsellors. For example, women's indecision may result from lack of clarity about which of the three needs is the more important to satisfy, or about which occupations would satisfy these needs.

A client may feel conflict between internalized views of sex-role appropriate occupations and changes in the occupational structure (for example, one woman may feel restricted by the occupational structure, another may feel changes are placing pressure on her to expand her view of sex-role appropriate occupations).

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Career self-efficacy theory (Hackett and Betz)

One notable example of an attempt to develop theoretical approaches that are more relevant for women and girls is Hackett and Betz's career self-efficacy theory (1981). They argued for a need to move beyond 'listings of barriers' to women's choices and achievements to an investigation of the mechanisms which are effective in embedding society's beliefs and expectations in women's vocational behaviour and achievement (Hackett and Betz, 1981, p327).

A study of twenty occupations was designed to 'investigate the usefulness of self-efficacy theory to the understanding of vocational behaviour and, in particular, to the understanding of women's career development'(Betz and Hackett, 1981, p400). The results of this study indicated that there exists 'significant and consistent sex differences in self-efficacy with regard to traditional and nontraditional occupations' (Betz and Hackett, 1981, p407). So, women demonstrated more career self-efficacy in relation to jobs that are traditionally female (like dental hygienist, social worker, secretary) and men were more efficacious in relation to traditionally male jobs (like accountant, mathematician and engineer). Betz and Hackett found from this research that the self-efficacy approach to career development for women (and men) provides a potentially useful framework for further study, and could have important implications for practice (1981, p410).

Their basic premise is that low expectations of self-efficacy regarding various career areas, particularly those which have historically been male dominated, are a major mediator of gender differences in occupational choice and subsequent vocational behaviour (Fitzgerald et al, 1995, p95). Hence, career self-efficacy theory represents an attempt to apply a theory from one realm (social learning theory) to another. The key concept in the theory, self-efficacy, was defined by Bandura (1986, p391) as: peoples judgements of their capabilities to organise and execute courses of action required to attain designated types of performances (Bandura 1986, p391).

Features of career self-efficacy theory which distinguish it from Krumboltz's social learning theory are that it:

  • places a strong emphasis on thinking processes (compared with behaviour)
  • focuses on the strength of the individual's belief that they can successfully accomplish something
  • considers that belief is more powerful than interests, values or abilities
  • emphasises that an individual's belief system affects their behaviours (rather than the behaviours themselves
  • focuses more on choice than social learning theory
  • pays less attention (so far) to the implications for practice

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The theory proposes that career behaviour is a result of interaction between self-efficacy, outcome expectations and goals. These are briefly described below:


a) Self-efficacy

This refers to a changing set of beliefs about oneself. The way in which individual's view their abilities and capabilities affects academic, career and other choices. If an individual has a low sense of self-efficacy, they may not persist in a difficult task. They may believe they will be unable to do the task well, and they may feel discouraged or overwhelmed by the task. In fact, research indicates (Lent, Brown and Larkin, 1986) that there's only a moderate relationship between an individual's view of their own ability and objective measures. Judgements of 'self-efficacy' influence whether behaviour will be initiated, the degree of effort that will be expended, and how long the behaviour will be maintained in the face of obstacles. e.g. a woman's belief's about her general capabilities, her confidence in her self-assessment of her abilities and her carpentry skills would affect the choice of beginning and continuing in a job as a carpenter, as well as the choice of maintaining the job in the face of friends, perhaps family and colleagues pressures to find a job more suitable for her gender. Bandura (1977, 1986) - proposed that self-efficacy expectations vary on three dimensions:

  1. Level - i.e. degree of difficulty of task that an individual feels capable of performing
  2. Strength - i.e. confidence the person has in his/her estimates
  3. Generality - i.e. range of situations in which the person feels efficacious

b) Outcome expectations

The variable that interacts with self-efficacy expectations is 'outcome expectations'. That is, an individual's estimate of the probability of an outcome. It's often difficult to distinguish outcome expectations from self-efficacy expectations because often it is thought that outcomes are contingent on performance. However, in some situations, outcome expectations are readily distinguishable from self-efficacy expectations. For example, a women may believe she is able to perform the role of Chief Executive, but does not expect that she would be selected for the job if she applied. That is, environmental factors are perceived as controlling or influencing the outcome rather than the level or quality of one's behaviour.

Therefore, outcome expectations refer to the estimate of ability to accomplish a task ('I can probably get into University), whereas self-efficacy expectations refer to estimates of whether an individual can carry out the task ('I sure I'm capable of degree level study and am definitely going to apply'). Bandura (1986) identified different types of outcome expectations, as follows:

  • Physical (e.g. payment for employment)
  • Social (e.g. parental praise for school work)
  • Self-evaluative (e.g. satisfaction with own performance)

One other variable influencing whether behaviour will be initiated is incentives (linked to outcome expectations). For example, a man may feel 'efficacious' about his ability to perform the duties of a kindergarten teacher, but does not value the outcomes (e.g. salary and status).

c) Goals

One other variable influencing whether behaviour will be initiated are goals.

Individuals set goals to organise behaviour and guide their actions, which may result in the identification of sub-goals. For example, 'I want to go into National Health Service Management' represents an overall goal. To achieve that goal, the individual will have to set sub-goals, including successfully completing a first degree, perhaps undertaking further study, applying for the NHS two-year training programme and then applying for a job of NHS manager. Goals are self-motivating and are a source of great personal satisfaction.

Badura (1986) identified four sources of information important to the process of development and modification of efficacy beliefs. These were:

  1. performance accomplishments: successful performance of a task or behaviour provides information that increases expectations regarding efficacy. Hackett and Betz (1981, p331) argue that gender role socialisation is likely to encourage boys to gain experiences in a wider range of areas outside the home.
  2. vicarious learning: that is, by observation. Hackett and Betz (1981, p331) suggest that males are exposed to vicarious learning experiences more relevant to career self-efficacy because of the way women are persistently portrayed in the media, books and children's literature in homemaker and mother roles.
  3. emotional arousal: for example, anxiety and stress. High levels of anxiety and stress are generally recognised to be debilitating. Hackett and Betz (1981, p332) remind us that research indicates that females score higher on anxiety measures than males. This higher level of anxiety increases the difficulty of developing positive efficacy expectations.
  4. verbal persuasion and encouragement: for example, towards a behaviour would increase efficacy whilst lack of encouragement or overt discouragement is likely to fail to increase or at worst decrease efficacy expectations. Again, Hackett and Betz (1981, p332) argue that, because of traditional societal views about being male and being female, males have received more encouragement for career pursuits and achievements than females.

Of these four, Bandura suggested that a) & b) are the most powerful influences on self-efficacy expectations, but all provide.

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Application of career self-efficacy theory to vocational behaviour

In applying self-efficacy theory to vocational behaviour, Hackett and Betz (1981) stated that where individuals lack expectations of personal efficacy in one or more career-related behavioural areas, behaviour critical to success is less likely to be initiated, or if initiated, sustained. Whilst acknowledging that self-efficacy theory requires research on various key aspects (Hackett and Betz, 1981, p334) they suggest that a 'self-efficacy approach to the career development of women appears promising due to its explanatory power, implications for counseling practice, and research potential' (1981, p337).

Implications for practice

Self-efficacy theory has considerable potential for broadening options. For example:

  • the practitioner could use a variety of cognitive strategies to help the client view her successes as due to internal rather than to external causes (e.g. 'positive self-talk' - Cognitive Behaviour Techniques)
  • the structuring of incremental graded success experiences could also be used
  • in the area of vicarious learning, the practitioner could arrange, for example, shadowing experiences with successful representatives of groups not normally successful in a particular area (i.e. women in career fields that are of interest)
  • desensitization procedures could be used to reduce excessive anxiety about career choice or performance (e.g. relaxation techniques);
    provision of high quality information projecting images that challenge common stereotypes

Betz and Hackett (1997, p383)) assert that 'Meta-analyses and reviews of 15 years of research.....strongly support the role of career self-efficacy as a predictor of educational and career preferences, academic performance, and persistence in the pursuit of desired career options'. They conclude that both the theory and measures of career-related self-efficacy are useful both in research examining barriers to and facilitators of women's career development and for designing and evaluating the effectiveness of practice grounded in this theory. They advocate the use, by the career practitioner, of both structured measures of career-self efficacy and informal assessment techniques like the interview to ascertain the extent to which gender role socialisation may have limited the client's range of options. In parallel, a focus on male dominated occupations, mathematics, science and technology should ensure that options have not been limited:

...our job as counselors is not to make a client's decisions or to push a client toward a nontraditional career, but to restor options that may have been de facto removed by sexism and gender role stereotyping as well as by other environmental barriers (Betz & Hackett, 1997, p398).

Overall, self-efficacy theory is thought by many to have great potential for careers work with groups who have traditionally underachieved in certain areas. For example, girls, women and minority ethnic groups. One of its strengths is that it doesn't ignore biological, social or environmental influences, nor the current context. However, it does assert that as individuals get older, it's more difficult to change interests, goals and performance outcomes.

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Feminist careers counselling

Feminist counselling is a philosophy rather than a comprehensive theory of practice. Brooks & Forrest (1994) outline some practice implications of applying this philosophy to careers counselling.

Socio-cultural conditions as primary source of women's problems

How a problem is defined determines how and where one looks for a solution. Feminist approaches to careers assumes that social structures and societal prescriptions have moulded and limited women's career development, experiences and opportunities. It follows from this that in addition to the assessment of abilities, etc., there is a need to incorporate an assessment of the ways in which gender-role issues have affected the client and created barriers within careers practice for women and girls. Two stages are identified which are necessary to achieve this goal, pre-assessment and assessment:

a) Pre-assessment strategies (preparation for the practitioner)

Practitioners familiarize themselves with research and scholarship on the relationship between gender and career development, for example:

  • interaction between gender and demographic variables such as race and class
  • critical incidents that affect the career development of women such as models, mentors, discriminatory practices, etc. that might occur in education and workplace

NB: Practitioners with strongly traditional sex-role attitudes should not attempt career counselling with women

b) Assessment Process (with the client)

One of the central tasks is to determine how the client has experienced gender-role socialization:

  • gather contextual data on the culture of the family of origin, family roles for men and women, client's perception of societal gender-role prescriptions for her age cohort.
  • then, inquire how the client transformed and gave meaning to her own life within her sociological culture

Techniques which can be used for this purpose include structured questions, fantasy exercise and sentence completion. In summary, a key task of gender role analysis is to identify ways in which social structures and gender role prescriptions have affected the client. The conclusions drawn from the assessment then guide the goals and process of careers counselling. Gender role issues are more relevant for some clients than others, though Brooks & Forrest (1994) argue that it is difficult to imagine any situation where they are totally irrelevant.

Personal is political

A focus of careers counselling should be to help clients develop a political awareness of the ways the social structure has moulded and limited them, for example, restricted perceptions of occupational options, focus on nurturing roles to the neglect of achieving roles, etc. Through gaining an awareness of the ways in which the environment has affected women's career choice and development, clients reduce self-blame for condition over which they had no control.

Egalitarian relationship

The practitioner doesn't deny expertise or competence, but rather works to avoid abuse of power and user power sharing strategies. To implement this principles, feminist career counsellors work towards:

  • establishing the relationship as collaborative and facilitative rather than hierarchical
  • informing the client about the procedures and goals of counselling and the philosophy of the practitioner
  • urging the client to give feedback to the practitioner
  • encourage the client to be selective about the practitioner with whom they work

Essentials for women's mental health

Goals: the overall goal is the empowerment of the client towards self-determination (i.e. help clients gain the skills, knowledge and attitudes necessary to take control over her own life and to begin to influence others). Reaching these goals often requires special techniques and strategies. Various strategies have been suggested (e.g. use of groups, female role models, interventions in the curriculum and other social structures, life planning). Additionally:

  • Sex-role analysis: similar to gender-role assessment where the goal is to identify the client's expectations regarding gender roles. It is an activity directed at eliciting the client's views about costs and benefits of pursuing traditional versus nontraditional careers.
  • Another technique is the nonsexist occupational card sort, where cards portraying occupational roles free from gender stereotyping are used to explore attitudes to 'gendered work'.
  • Life-career planning strategies can encourage women to engage in long-term planning and thereby exert some control over their future.

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Farmer: diversity and women's career development

Using social learning theory as a theoretical framework, Farmer (1997a, 1997b) challenges the viability of current theoretical views for women. They also criticise current careers programmes and practices, offering concrete practical suggestions for addressing these weaknesses.

Farmer developed her ideas from on a longitudinal research study conducted over a period of two decades. The particular focus of the research was women's persistence in science careers (1997a, pxi). Data collection took place during three time period: 1980, 1990 and 1991-1993, in North America. Questionnaires were used to collect the data during the first two phases. The 'usable' (Farmer, 1997a, p21) questionnaires from participants during this first phase (1980) numbered 1,863. By 1990, 459 participants returned usable questionnaire data (p26). What appeared to be inconsistencies were found in the data collected during these first two phases and decided to investigate further. For the third phase, 105 participants were interviewed for one to two hours, since Farmer recognised 'that more quantitative data would not suffice to unlock the meaning behind the inconsistencies' (1997a, pxi).

Theoretical model underlying the longitudinal study (Farmer, 1985, 1997a, 1997b)

For the 1980 phase of data collection, three types of factors were assumed to affect women's behaviour: motivation, personal and environmental variables:

  • Personal: home role salience; sex role orientation; self-esteem; co-operative and competitive achievement style; success/failure attributions (four dimensions - ability, effort, luck and task difficulty); and achievement values.
  • Environmental: parent support; teacher support; counsellor support and support for women working.
  • Motivation: career motivation; achievement motivation and career aspiration/educational level.

For the 1990 phase of data collection, the same categories were used, with some items enhanced (Farmer, 1997a, p14-15). Important assumptions underlying interpretations of the data are identified as (Farmer, 1997b, p363):

that career planning must take place within a life planning framework, and that such plans must take account of other life roles, such as those of spouse or partner and parent, as well as personal roles;

that choice of a career field should be consistent with a woman's or a man's abilities, aptitudes, values and interests as well as realistic in light of societal opportunities and constraints;
that the role of people as agents in their learning, choosing and behaviour is an important aspect of the potential for change.

Farmer remains convinced that social learning theory provides the most promising theoretical basis for effective careers counselling with girls and women:

Social learning theory is optimistic in that it allows for behaviours to change over time as a result of new experiences, new ideas, and self perceptions and plans. ...Operating within many realistic constraints, women still may have much to say about their destinies (1997, p9)

Based on her research findings, Farmer makes the following suggestions for careers counselling with 'young women and men to day and in the coming decades' (1997, p291):

  • Enhanced careers education curriculum in further and higher education, which emphasises sexual equality and addresses issues such as sexual harassment in the workplace
  • Life planning, including exploration of values and how these fit in with their long-term career plans. This would address career-family role conflicts which arise in 'dual-worker couples'(p282) and aim to develop 'multiple role realism' (p284)
  • Self-efficacy and career persistence: since these are connected, careers counsellors can contribute much by increasing self-efficacy in clients (see section c) above for strategies
  • Reducing the 'null environment' (p292) in education (i.e. one that is indifferent to women's achievements) is essential if women are to start realising their potential. This requires reduction of the 'chilly environment' (p292) and sexual harassment present in many educational settings, especially non-traditional areas for women (like science, maths and engineering).

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Conclusions and recent research

From a review of a decade of research into women and career development, Phillips and Imhoff (1997) conclude that 'women's lives are complex' (p49). They note that the past decade has seen significant progress towards understanding this complexity. Fitzgerald et al (1995) stress the need to study concepts and variables for women (such as those identified by Betz, 1994) which were previously regarded as unnecessary and irrelevant, concluding that this will lead to a greater understanding of the vocational behaviour of everyone (p68).

Research on women’s career choices shows the relevance of sociocultural influences, mentoring and social support (Crawford and Smith, 2005), with this last one being more influential than perceived barriers (Quimby and O'Brien, 2004). Self-efficacy is shown as a key element in career decision making, especially for choosing non-standard careers (Gushue and Whitson, 2006; Kerr and Robinson Kurpius, 2004; Quimby and O'Brien, 2004). Interventions to promote self-efficacy have shown good results (Sullivan and Mahalik, 2000). Research also suggests that young women have difficulties in juggling with contradictory advice (Creamer and Laughlin, 2005).

Concerning guidance practices, recent research suggests an ecological model to conceptualize the dynamic interaction between the woman and her environment (Betz, 2002; Cook, Heppner and O'Brien, 2002). Some other issues include the role of guidance considering sexual harassment and home violence (Bimrose, 2004; Yanar, Marie-Hélène and Latham, 2009).

Recent research has started to collect empirical evidence from women’s careers in different settings such as non-traditional careers (Feyerherm and Vick, 2005; Herzig, 2004), elite careers (Coltrane, 2004), and international careers (Crowley-Henry and Weir, 2007). In terms of success, self-efficacy and a strong belief in the own competence is crucial to succeed in non-traditional careers (Aaltio and Huang, 2007). Cultural norms keep appearing as important barriers; for instance, professional women who marry or have children are considered less serious about their careers, whereas professional men who marry or become fathers are considered more likely candidates for promotion (Coltrane, 2004). In addition, research suggests that high flyers need to confront cultural norms about their roles, by reconstructing their identities in both their private and work lives. Related to career opportunities, both women and men benefit from breadth of experience and development assignments. However, successful women are less likely than successful men to report that mentoring facilitated their advancement (Lyness and Thompson, 2000). Finally, employment interruptions have become more penalizing and have negative effects on career satisfaction as well (Grunow, Hofmeister and Buchholz, 2006; Valcour and Ladge, 2008).

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Career theory for minority ethnic groups

Fitzgerald and Betz (1994) argue that current career theory may be inadequate for large numbers of clients because of the questionable relevance of the concept of career development, because of the historic neglect of large groups of the population and because it has failed to take proper account of structural and cultural factors (p103). They suggest that we are ignorant about the relevance of career theory for non-white and working-class clients, because we have never tried to find out (p105).

`It is fair to say that we know almost nothing about the career choice process in the majority of the population: those who do not attend college, are not white, and are of lower socioeconomic status' (Fitzgerald and Betz, 1994, p106).

Important issues related to assessment in careers practice with racial and ethnic minority clients are identified by Betz and Fitzgerald (1995). A summary of the main points follows:

a) Career counselling must take place within a cultural context: The Western value system that many believe is embedded in guidance practice is finally being questioned. It is important that practice should include knowledge of and respect for the values of other cultures and that practitioners should constantly review their own values and ethnicity. This is essential because important variables in career counselling may covary with ethnicity. For example, the approach a practitioner adopts may be individualistic (i.e. assume choice and control lies with the individual client), and this may clash with the strong family values held by clients from some minority ethnic groups. Additionally, this type of self-awareness on the part of the practitioner is likely to encourage the examination of factors not previously considered. For example, decision-making styles demonstrated by some clients could be viewed as passive and/or dependent; with a working knowledge of different value systems, this could be reconceptualised more positively as indicative of a `collectivist orientation'.

b) Avoidance of stereotyping: The importance of within as well as between group differences should be acknowledged. We must not assume that ethnic minority groups are homogeneous, nor that ethnic group coincides with racial group.

c) New variables: New variables need to be incorporated into a culturally competent approach to careers counselling as follows:

  • racial identity development, includes: concept of client preferences regarding counsellor ethnicity; perceptions of the openness of the occupational structure; client responsiveness to counsellor suggestions. Of course, the racial identity of each practitioner affects the responses of careers counsellors to certain clients.
  • acculturation: Refers to the level of acceptance/integration into the self of the values of the dominant culture.
  • language usage: English as a second language. Extent to which an individual is able to use his/her native language influences assessment and intervention in careers counselling

d ) Race/ethnicity and gender

Race and gender must be considered in interaction. In research, there has been a tendency to separate. Minority women, in this sense, have been invisible. The reality of the situation of ethnic minority women is one of double disadvantage - socially and economically, referred to as `double jeopardy'. An important feature of this interaction is the extent of differences in gender-role socialisation and expectations of women's adult roles across groups. For example, the extent to which women are expected to work outside the home as adults differs across groups. An important task for careers guidance may be to help clients to integrate the sometimes contradictory forces of cultural values and personal beliefs and goals.

Gainor and Forrest's model (1991) is proposed as a possible way in which women can be helped to integrate rather than separate their gender and racial identities. It includes helping clients towards a knowledge of themselves first as female, second, as a member of an ethnic minority and third, as an unique individual.

The study of women's career development is also useful. For example, it can help with an understanding of:

  • the need to value the family as well as career
  • perceptions of occupations being closed to women
  • the perniciousness of the `Old Boys'' Network
  • the difficulty of finding quality child care
  • the susceptibility of all women to sex discrimination, sexual harassment and violence

Overall, the practitioner needs to be familiar with both women and minority ethnic group career development.

e) Inadequacy of current knowledge

Insufficient research has been carried out into the career development of minority ethnic groups. For example, measures of work values don't necessarily include the value systems of cultural groups. Also, the whole process of test administration and interpretation needs to be considered within a cultural context (e.g. it was found that Asian Americans more likely to live within an authoritarian family - less likely to challenge authority in a test situation). The next steps for research and practice are identified as:

  • Research: This needs to start to identify ethnic group membership of research participants so that an evaluation of the representatives of the findings and potential relevance to a particular group can be made.
  • Practice: Practitioners need to increase their awareness of styles of communication, values regarding the importance of the family, impact of fluency in language and expectations of counselling, among other dimensions. Telling an Asian client `it's your life, do what you want to do - make your own decisions' illustrates the `missed by a mile' counselling technique. The practitioner needs to help clients evaluate the functional versus dysfunctional aspects of traditional values and beliefs, and to make decisions that include elements of both self-values and respect for traditional beliefs.

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Career model for minority ethnic groups

Fouad and Bingham (1995) propose a `culturally appropriate career counseling model' (p344). In order for practitioners to implement this model successfully, they argue that practitioners must:

  • 1st:become multiculturally competent, as defined by Sue et al (1995, p624).
  • 2nd:achieve an understanding of worldviews (Sue & Sue, 1990, p137).
  • 3rd:acquire knowledge about racial ethnic identity development. Cross (1994, p122) is proposed as one such relevant model of ethnic identity development. This consists of a four stage development process:
  • Pre-change: the individual does not want to be described in racial terms, preferring to be seen as a human being. Being Black is somewhat insignificant.
  • Encounter: the individual begins to question the previous belief system of stage 1. Feels they have been miseducated, and that they are not Black enough.
  • Transition: a period of metamorphosis, when the old identity and the emerging identity do battle. A period of extreme highs and lows. High energy, when the enemy is identified as White people and White society.
  • Internalisation: as the individual's life situation changes, s/he will begin to question such unequivocal stands and will become more internally secure, more pluralistic, and more appreciative of all ethnic groups. The person eventually develops greater comfort and the new identity is internalised.

The client's stage of development may have implications for his or her career aspirations and expectations, so it is important for the careers practitioner to assess the stage of development of minority ethnic clients.

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Culturally appropriate career counselling model

Fouad and Bingham (1995, p344) have developed a seven step model for working with minority ethnic clients:

  • Step 1: establish rapport/culturally appropriate relationship. Listen and observe clients' comments, learn how they wish to be related to; respond to client's main words and construct and check out statements with the clients.
  • Step 2: identification of the career issues that the client brings: cognitive, social, emotional (e.g. panic attacks at work), environmental (e.g. working conditions, co-workers), behavioural (e.g. client being short-tempered at work), external barriers (e.g.discrimination, oppression, racism, sexism, financial concerns). Critical to the model is the explicit definition of external barriers because, for many minority clients, career choice is a matter of balancing those factors within their control with those outside their control.
  • Step 3: assess the impact of cultural variables on career issues. For example, the impact a decision might have on the client's family and consequences for the client if s/he disappoints their parents. The meaning gender might have for the client.
  • Step 4: set culturally appropriate processes and goals. For example, inappropriate goals may include career choices based on self-actualization rather than on pragmatism.
  • Step 5: determining and implementing a culturally appropriate intervention: cognitive, social emotional, environmental, behavioural, external barriers).
    For example, use group intervention with those minority members who operate in a framework that is more collectivistic than individualistic. Involve the family in career decision making. Use race and gender appropriate role models to expand awareness of opportunities. Present interventions in native languages when appropriate and possible. Also, depending on the racial identity of the client, the most effective counselling will be conducted by a counsellor of the same race or ethnicity.
  • Step 6: helping the client make a culturally appropriate decision. Clients may be making career choices, deciding to adjust their work roles or deciding they need more information. As they begin to implement plans, some may choose to cycle back through career counseling to work on different goals. Practitioners need to be open to this process since many minority clients will not see counselling as a linear, rational decision-making process.
  • Step 7: implementation of the client's plans and follow-up. It may be important to encourage the client to return, if the need arises. This may be difficult since some clients may regard return as failure (and possible loss of face).

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Conclusions and recent research

In common with many others, Osipow and Littlejohn (1995) identify what they consider to be weaknesses in current theory for minority ethnic groups, and suggest how we might revise current approaches. To make them work better, it is suggested that we need to learn from work done on career development for women: more variables, therefore individual variables assume less importance (because they have less weight in sum total of variables).

Perhaps it is time to create career theories that try to describe career development and choice as it is and not as we think it should be. Such a shift might produce more powerful career concepts for all kinds of people (p256)

There has been an increase in the number of articles published on racial/ethnic minority vocational research in the last years (Flores et al., 2006). Recent research suggests that individuals from minority groups have perceptions of higher barriers to their career development (Cardoso and Marques, 2008), and of lower self-efficacy for coping with them (Luzzo and McWhirter, 2001). Related to career progression, research suggests that although young people from ethnic minority backgrounds are admitted into university in large numbers, higher education has an ambivalent role in relation to ethnic equality (Shiner and Modood, 2002). In terms of guidance, counseling and self-reported grades are positively associated with future outlook (Dellana and Snyder, 2004). Finally, recent research suggests that young people from minority groups lack information on apprenticeships and quality data on which ones may provide more opportunities for career advancement (Beck, Fuller and Unwin, 2006).

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