Low-income African American and Latina adolescent females need extensive support for developing and implementing career plans. Many reside in economically depressed inner-cities where access to decent schools and opportunities for employment are severely limited. Thus they may lack academic skills and career-related experiences, and perceive narrow career opportunities for themselves, which combine to pose formidable obstacles to obtaining future jobs or careers (De Leon, 1996). In fact, unemployment rates for young African American and Latina women are higher than for white females or males of all ethnic/racial backgrounds; Latina adolescent girls drop out of school prematurely more often than other youth; the numbers of African American and Latina females heading households are steadily increasing, as are their poverty rates; and the gap in earnings between high school dropouts and high school graduates continues to increase dramatically (U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1990; U.S. Bureau of the Census, 1996).
There is, therefore, an urgent need to provide female adolescents of color with a career education that will enable both economic self-sufficiency and personal fulfillment. This digest discusses ways for schools and other institutions to provide such an education.
Potentially more useful and relevant to understanding the career development of women of color, working class people, and others whose vocational behavior does not fit into existing frameworks has been the application of Bandura's general social cognitive theory to career development (1986). Social cognitive career theory (SCCT) considers several variables that guide people in their career development, such as self-efficacy, outcome expectation, and personal goals. It emphasizes the interplay between these psychological factors with other characteristics of a person (e.g., gender, race, ethnicity) and their environments (e.g., support, barriers) (Lent & Brown, 1996). For example, within the SCCT framework, five areas can be considered relevant to understanding the career development of women of color: their knowledge of the work world, family factors, environmental factors, the impact of socialization, and the impact of sexism and racism. Similarly, from a social cognitive perspective, Hackett and Byars (1996) discuss the impact of typical socialization experiences of African American women on career-related self-efficacy, and suggest implications for career counseling (discussed below).
A collaborative effort by the University of Texas at El Paso, a local YMCA, and three local school districts has created a successful program for Latina girls and their mothers: The Mother-Daughter Program (Tinajera, 1991). It is designed to encourage participants to value education, improve academic and life skills, develop leadership potential, and aspire to careers. The program includes mothers because their expectations, involvement, and role-modeling will have lasting effects on their daughters' educational development. Often the mothers return to school to complete their education, providing an important example to their daughters.
Several model programs for low-income African American adolescent girls have also been developed. Steppin' Up and Movin' On, a counseling program providing career education for urban, non-college-bound female students, emphasizes four areas: (1) individual assessment--helping students become aware of individual aptitudes and abilities; (2) education and career information-examining careers from a broad societal perspective and their specific implications for African American females; (3) skill-building exercises; and (4) integrated experiences with peers and counselors (Fisher, 1982). NEW PASS was developed as a model program to improve African American girls' awareness of nontraditional careers (Kohler, 1987). Its curriculum provides activities to expand participants' knowledge of nontraditional career options, build self-esteem, develop problem-solving and decision-making skills, and increase their awareness of the importance of making life plans. The curriculum also covers special issues in participants' lives, such as parenting, male-female relationships, and sexual violence.
For example, Taking Your Place, a two-week summer program designed to encourage nontraditional career choices for adolescent girls in Wilmington, NC, offers participants the opportunity to expand their career choices as well as to develop a positive self-image (Rea-Poteat & Martin, 1991). The project includes field trips to local businesses to highlight technological occupations; classroom instruction; lectures and discussions involving women in nontraditional occupations; and hands-on applications, such as building an AM/FM radio, collecting marine animals, and changing an automobile tire.
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