ERIC Identifier: ED410369
Publication Date: 1997-08-00
Author: Weiler, Jeanne
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Urban
Education New York NY.
Career Development for African American and Latina Females.
ERIC/CUE Digest, Number 125
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.
THE CAREER DEVELOPMENT PROCESS
Much of the past research on
career development has been conducted on groups of young white men, although
career experts now question its applicability to development of career programs
for women and racial and ethnic minorities. Traditional models of career
development do not take into account the complex realities of women's career
choices, preparation, and working lives (Fitzgerald, Fassinger, & Betz,
1995). The succession of career behaviors for women is far more complex than for
men, because women frequently interrupt education and career preparation in
order to integrate work and family life. They also must strive to overcome
obstacles such as gender discrimination and sex stereotyping. Furthermore, for
many people, particularly low-income, the traditional concepts of vocational
decision-making and development are not that useful when their economic survival
is the main motivation for getting a job.
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).
LIMITATIONS ON YOUNG WOMEN'S CAREER CHOICES
role stereotyping, girls and boys learn early which occupations are suitable for
them, with the result of limiting career choices and planning. In addition,
girls suffer from limited career awareness because they lack information on
nontraditional career choices, particularly those related to mathematics,
science, and engineering. From an early age girls choose not to, and are not
encouraged to, take courses in school that would prepare them for careers in
these fields. Low self-esteem, lack of female role models, low parental
expectations, stereotypes of scientists, and lack of hands-on experiences in
science all contribute to girls' development of negative attitudes towards math
and science (Bailey, 1992).
EFFECTIVE CAREER DEVELOPMENT PROGRAMS FOR YOUNG
Although a variety of approaches and specialized programs exist today
in schools to prepare youth for future careers, the majority of low-income urban
girls are not enrolled in them, and many of the programs do not directly address
their needs. Interventions shown to be effective with low-income African
American and Latina adolescent females comprise the following components:
Teachers can play an important
role in providing career development support for females even though it has not
been a significant responsibility of school-based staff or a subject of special
training. Indeed, a study on the career expectations of Mexican American girls
found that those from lower socioeconomic backgrounds (also associated with
lower levels of acculturation) perceived their parents as less encouraging of
their career aspirations and support from teachers as extremely important
(McWhirter & Hackett, 1993).
COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN INSTITUTIONS
schools, agencies, and higher education institutions can develop especially
relevant programs. For example, the Girl Scout Council of Greater New York and
The Bronx Zoo have jointly designed a program to introduce urban adolescent
girls to the natural sciences and increase their awareness of the range of
career options related to wildlife sciences and conservation biology.
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
ACCESS TO CAREER INFORMATION
Interventions should include
current and accurate information about the nature of different careers and
occupations, career preparation and training, and lines of progression leading
to job advancement. Many low-income African American and Latina girls lack such
an education because they are isolated from the work world, and because there
are limited employment opportunities for them and for others in their community
GENDER EQUALITY IN OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION
sex-role stereotyping of occupations continues to circumscribe young women's
employment choices. Young African American and Latina women need to be taught to
critically examine how gender role socialization impacts on their career goals,
and be helped to explore higher paying "nontraditional" careers for women.
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.
SKILLS TO COPE WITH RACISM, SEXISM, AND DISCRIMINATION
is critical to help young low-income minority women understand and overcome the
effects of perceived barriers and negative outcomes on their own beliefs in
their career abilities, interests, and goals. They need to build skills to
identify racism, sexism, and discrimination; and to develop effective coping
strategies for dealing with discrimination and social barriers that can limit
their career and educational development and participation (Hackett & Byars,
ROLE MODELS AND MENTORS
The most effective kind of role
model intervention for African American girls is often exposure to models
similar in age and social backgrounds (Hackett & Byars, 1996). Successful
coping behaviors (e.g., discussing frustrations and problems) that are actively
demonstrated by similar-age peers, rather than adults, may be more likely to
influence their skill development, and exposure to college students can enhance
career awareness. Outcomes for low-income female adolescents can also be
enhanced by mentors (Rhodes & Davis, 1996). Experience has indicated that
African American girls who identified with "natural mentors" (extended family
members) were more likely to be engaged in activities related to career goals,
suggesting that parents, extended family members, and community members need to
be recruited to provide support and mentoring.
Programmatic changes in schools and counseling
departments, along with creative collaborations among schools and other
institutions in urban areas, are needed to fully meet the career development
needs of African American and Latina girls. In addition, given the obstacles
faced by many of the students, these organized effects should be combined with
personal encouragement and support from family, teachers, and community members.
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