A Discriminant Analysis of Gender and Counselor Professional Identity Development

Article excerpt

Professional identity development is a process by which an individual reaches an understanding of her or his profession in conjunction with her or his own self-concept, enabling the articulation of occupational role, philosophy, and professional approach to people within and outside of the individual's chosen field (Brott & Myers, 1999; Smith & Robinson, 1995). One's professional identity includes the values and beliefs ascribed to by a profession as a whole as well as the way in which one chooses to engage in a chosen occupation (Remley & Herlihy, 2007). By strengthening the competency of practitioners through a focus on professional identity development, it is hoped that the counseling profession will be bolstered as practitioners and counselor educators reach a cohesive collective identity (Gale & Austin, 2003). Collective identity refers to having shared goals, resources, and aspirations for a profession (Daniels, 2002).

To build a relationship with one's field of work, an individual must establish a clear foundation and construct a professional philosophy that clarifies and distinguishes the profession from other similar vocations. In this study, we contend that the philosophical beliefs and values ascribed to by individual professional counselors as part of their professional identity may be influenced by factors that may include societally defined gender role expectations, personal values, and engagement in professional activities. To determine how gender group membership (as culturally imposed according to overt biological sex characteristics) affects professional identity development and engagement behaviors, we evaluated differences between self-identified male and female participants regarding measured aspects of professional identity. Knowing if cultural gender role expectations influence identity development could be important for assisting practitioners, new professionals, and counselors-in-training as they become increasingly invested in the counseling field in a self-authorized way (Belenky, 1997). Having a personally congruent way of being as a professional is important in building competence, allowing for individuals to confidently contribute to the field and their communities (Ronnestad & Skovholt, 2008; Watts, 2004).

* Gender Norms and Identity Development

In an analysis of professional identity development, research has indicated that the construct of professional identity, which typically develops in association with a particular field of work, may contribute to gender inequity (Rubineau, 2008). This inequity can manifest in terms of general gender representation in the profession or engagement in professional activities, or it may influence representation in administrative and other leadership positions. This pervasive influence may also be evident with regard to those individuals chosen for promotion within professional businesses or hired for certain instructional positions within educational settings. Professions such as those included in the medical field (e.g., medical doctors, physician assistants) may appear to have gender equality when one looks at student admissions, graduation rates, and grades; however, when one considers the specialist areas, an obvious gender gap exists because of the requirements for success (e.g., time requirements) within those domains of expertise. These externally defined requirements have been found to relate directly to how the profession is defined in terms of performance expectations (Boulis & Jacobs, 2003). Time requirements have been found to play a particularly important role for professional women as life obligations and personal and professional roles correspond to their ability to balance personal and professional responsibilities, leading to role conflict (Hill, Leinbaugh, Bradley, & Hazier, 2005; Mason & Ekman, 2007; Medina, 2008; Simon, 1995).

* Role Conflict and Professional Engagement

Mason and Ekman (2007) noted, in a content analysis of educational outcomes and employment data, that although women are becoming more engaged in higher education and are involved in following career aspirations, they are not achieving higher management or upper tier status in organizational and educational institutions. …