Social Cognitive Theory and the Career Development of African American Women

Article excerpt

No comprehensive model of the career development of racial and ethnic minorities has yet been developed; even less attention has been devoted to models of the career development of racial and ethnic minority women. One of the more promising career theories that may prove satisfactory in accounting for ethnicity in career development is Bandura's (1986) social cognitive theory (Lent & Brown, 1996; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). In this article, the authors selectively review the literature on African American women's career development to clarify how social cognitive mechanisms may be operating. The primary focus of this conceptual analysis is on the central elements of social cognitive theory, namely, self-efficacy and outcome expectations. Implications for counseling are presented.

Despite the emerging empirical warrant for the career self-efficacy construct and for social cognitive theory in general, many important issues have yet to be satisfactorily addressed (Hackett & Lent, 1992). Primary among these issues is the exploration of cultural influences on career self-efficacy (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994). Studies on career self-efficacy either have failed to investigate race and ethnicity entirely (even when ethnically diverse samples have been studied) or have examined simple racial and ethnic differences (Hackett, 1995). Moreover, almost no attention has been focused on the intersection of gender and ethnic influences on career selfefficacy; the special career circumstances of racial and ethnic minority women have yet to be carefully investigated within this literature (Hackett & Lent, 1992).

Despite the problems and gaps in the literature regarding ethnicity and career self-efficacy, the extant research does indicate that career and academic self-efficacy significantly predict the academic achievement and career choice of people of color (e.g., Bores-Rangel, Church, Szendre, & Reeves, 1990; Church, Teresa, Rosebrook, & Szendre, 1992; Hackett, Betz, Casas, & Rocha-Singh, 1992; Lauver & Jones, 1991; Noble, Hackett, & Chen, 1992; Post-Kammer & Smith, 1985; Williams & Leonard, 1988). On the one hand, these findings indicate that basic social cognitive mechanisms, including career self-efficacy, are applicable across ethnically diverse populations (Hackett, 1995). Indeed, the recently articulated social cognitive model of academic and career choice (Lent et al., 1994) outlines the general ways in which race and ethnicity may influence career efficacy beliefs, interests, and other variables that ultimately predict career choice behaviors. On the other hand, there have been few investigations on unique cultural influences in the development of academic and career self-efficacy, and cultural dynamics have not yet been spotlighted in the context of other variables within social cognitive career theory. Although large racial-ethnic differences in career self-efficacy are not apparent in the research literature, the social cognitive model does include elements suggesting important and ongoing cultural influences on learning experiences, career selfefficacy, interests, outcome expectations, and goal setting (Lent et al., 1994). For example, Brown (1995) has suggested that, because of racism and discrimination, outcome expectations may be more important in African Americans' career development than is suggested by the general social cognitive model.

This article represents an initial attempt to delineate some of the specific implications of social cognitive theory for racial and ethnic minority women. Rather than attempting inclusiveness in this brief report, we focus on the applications of self-efficacy theory, within the broader context of social-cognitive theory, to the career development of African American women. We have chosen to highlight African American women for many reasons, most notably because of the "double jeopardy" of racism and sexism experienced by African American women, differentiating them from African American men and from White women (Beale, 1970). …