Gender and Ethnic Differences in Career Goal Attainment

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The purpose of this study was to examine barriers to and facilitators of career goals among college students in the framework of the Social Cognitive Career Theory (R. W. Lent, S. D. Brown, & G. Hackett, 1994). Questionnaires were completed by 2,743 college freshmen. Chi-square tests and MANOVA were used to analyze the data. The authors found gender and ethnic differences in perceptions of barriers to career goals. Differences were found by ethnicity, but not by gender, in perceptions of facilitators of career goals. The authors examined factors influencing career choice goals and specific barriers and facilitators. They discuss implications for career counselors.

The changing composition of college campuses and the workforce requires career counselors to increase their understanding of racial, ethnic, and cultural factors that influence career development (Allen, 1992; Krumboltz & Coon, 1995; Leong & Brown, 1995). In addition, as the number of women pursuing higher education and careers outside the home continues to increase, it is important for counselors to be aware of the role of gender in career development (Blustein, 1997; Cook, 1993). Women and members of minority racial or ethnic groups often encounter employment discrimination, harassment, and barriers to information sources and social networks (Ancis & Phillips, 1996; Gutek & Koss, 1993; McWhirter, 1997; Swanson & Tokar, 1991). Studies of academic success and retention among college students report lower success rates for ethnic minority students than for Caucasian students (Fuertes & Sedlacek, 1995; Sedlacek, 1998). In many cases, high ability does not lead to high achievement for women and ethnic minorities. This phenomenon has been referred to as the "ability-attainment gap" (McWhirter, 1997, p. 124), and its cause has been linked to barriers and differential opportunities for these groups (Ladany, Melincoff, Constantine, & Love, 1997; Luzzo & Hutcheson, 1996).

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT; Brown & Lent, 1996; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994, 1996, 2000) provides a framework for understanding gender and ethnic differences regarding barriers to and facilitators of career development. The SCCT emphasizes the role of contextual factors in determining career choice goals and actions. Setting a career goal involves making a decision about what one wants to do and determining a plan to accomplish that objective (Lent et al., 1996). The barriers and facilitators that exist and an individual's perception of these variables interact with self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and goal-setting behavior to shape the individual's career-related actions and performance. Career barriers interfere with the process of turning career interests into choice goals and goal-directed behavior (Brown & Lent, 1996). The SCCT suggests that gender and ethnic differences in perceived barriers and facilitative variables (e.g., opportunity structure, support systems) affect the congruence of career interests with career goals, as well as the congruence between ability and actions toward goals (Lent et al., 1996, 2000). Specifically, individuals are affected by aspects of the larger environment, and they learn from observation the demographic features of occupations and the barriers experienced by others in those occupations. In one example provided by Lent and colleagues (Lent et al., 2000), the authors stated that "individuals are likely to differentiate beliefs about whether certain barriers exist in society generally, from their beliefs about how barriers will affect the self, should they be encountered directly" (p. 45).

Recent research has examined gender and ethnic differences in barriers to career development. McWhirter (1997) examined gender and ethnic differences in perceived educational and career barriers among 1,139 Mexican American and European American high school juniors and seniors. …