Career Decision Self-Efficacy of Lesbians throughout the Life Span
Rheineck, Jane E., Adultspan Journal
This study examined the relationship of lesbian identity development and internalized homophobia and the impact on career decision self-efficacy. One hundred and twenty-four women participated. Although the sample was highly integrated, participants reported different experiences in their career development. Implications for counseling lesbian clients are discussed.
Career decision making and occupational choice are viewed as lifelong experiences, occurring in stages and contributing to an individual's values and beliefs. Engels (1994) postulated that the career development process addresses an individual's needs and goals that are associated with different stages of life; the focus and importance of career decision making and occupational choice may change over the years. In addition to environmental influences that affect both heterosexual women and lesbians, lesbians have the additional variable of sexual orientation, which makes it imperative to consider the impact of being lesbian and the prejudice against lesbian and gay individuals when making choices in work and career (Croteau & Hedstrom, 1993; Hetherington & Orzek, 1989; Orzek, 1992).
Past research has suggested that sexual orientation does affect career choice and career development; however, little research exists regarding the actual career development process of women who identify as lesbian (Shallenberger, 1998). Boatwright, Gilbert, Forrest, and Kretzenberger (1996) found that lesbians had often (a) reexperienced a second adolescence as they developed their lesbian identity, (b) experienced delays and disruptions in the career development process, and (c) experienced some career benefits from associating with other lesbians. Each of these factors has affected career development and occupational choice for lesbians.
Coming out has been discussed as a process with distinct stages of self-acceptance and awareness. It is an ongoing, lifelong process rather than a onetime event (Morrow, 1996), in which the transition to a lesbian identity has depended not only on internal forces (positive self-image and self-efficacy) but also on external forces, such as supportive family and/or friends. For many individuals, developmental tasks must wait to be successfully completed until they are in an environment that is both socially and emotionally safe. As a result, painful experiences have often led to self-hatred, self-devaluation, isolation, and self-destructive behaviors, all having an impact on career development, career self-efficacy, and career choice. To better understand the components of the life span career development process for lesbians, I review lesbian identity development, internalized homophobia, and career decision self-efficacy.
LESBIAN IDENTITY DEVELOPMENT
Lesbian identity is a unique journey for each individual. It is not linear, nor can it be compartmentalized into succinct steps. The following are two lesbian identity models put forth by researchers who have attempted to capture the complexities of this process.
The Cass (1979) Model
Cass (1984) emphasized the necessity of offering a clear definition of what identity is, the structural components of identity, how it develops over time, and the external and internal influences on it. Cass's (1979) model considered this process.
The Cass (1979) model, which has laid the groundwork for subsequent theories addressing the developmental issues unique to the gay male and lesbian population and is based on the framework of interpersonal congruency theory, has six stages of homosexual identity formation. The stages are differentiated on the basis of the individual's personal perception of self. The six stages of the model are (a) identity confusion, which is characterized by the first conscious awareness of homosexuality within oneself; (b) identity comparison, which is the tentative commitment to homosexual identity; (c) identity tolerance, which signifies a heightened awareness of social alienation; (d) identity acceptance, which is distinguished by increased contact with other sexual minorities; (e) identity pride, which is the near completion of self-acceptance of one's homosexual self; and (f) identity synthesis, which is the complete integration of the person's homosexual self and other important aspects of his or her identity.
The McCarn and Fassinger (1996) Model
On the basis of previous racial/ethnic identity models in which two different sectors are present--personal identity, including self-evaluation and self-esteem, and reference group orientation, including race awareness and racial identity--McCarn and Fassinger (1996) addressed individual lesbian identity development and group membership identity development. First, there is the process of individual sexual awareness and individual identity development leading to group identity development: What it means to be lesbian in society. Both trajectories are based on the same four-phase model. The four phases are (a) awareness, which is the general awareness of feeling different and understanding that those emotions are different than those of heterosexuals; (b) exploration, which involves strong relationships with or feelings about other women; (c) deepening/commitment, which represents the crystallization of choices regarding sexuality; and (d) internalization/ synthesis, often characterized by women having completed several years of sexual exploration with defined resolution of their desires and practices. McCarn and Fassinger noted that these two dimensions may not be mutually exclusive and are not necessarily simultaneous.
An example of external forces having an impact on internal forces is internalized homophobia, which lesbians experience but heterosexual women do not. "The construct of internalized homophobia can serve as a central organizing concept for a gay and lesbian affirmative psychology" (Shidlo, 1994, p. 176). Shidlo identified four reasons that this construct was significant when working with gay and lesbian clients. First, internalized homophobia was an event that most lesbians and gay men experienced in varying degrees in a heterosexist society. Second, because a heterosexist society was often an antigay culture, psychological distress was often a result of internalized homophobia. Third, Shidlo reported that the reduction of internalized homophobia was often a measure of successful mental health therapy. Finally, internalized homophobia was a tool or framework used to organize factors unique to lesbians and gay men in the areas of emotional development.
CAREER DECISION SELF-EFFICACY
Self-efficacy beliefs--the belief about one's ability to organize and execute tasks needed to be successful (Bandura, 1977)--has been found to be related to a variety of career options and occupational preferences. Self-efficacy, more than some other possible variables, has proved to be a stronger predictor of perceived career options for individuals (Chartrand, Camp, & McFadden, 1992).
If coming out temporarily decreases self-esteem (Fassinger, 1995), career decision self-efficacy may be compromised. A healthy self-concept has been strongly related to career-choice optimization variables such as congruence and self-efficacy, and a confused or negative self-concept can impede the process of career planning (Betz & Fitzgerald, 1987). Although low self-esteem is an identifiable and distinct career barrier, in general, to women's career planning and choice, it is likely to be especially debilitating to young women navigating lesbian identity (Hetherington & Orzek, 1989).
Fassinger (1995) identified two areas typically used to describe barriers to women's career development. The first area, vocational choice, focuses on vocational planning and choices. It includes internal barriers such as self-esteem and external constraints such as occupational stereotyping. The second area, vocational implementation, includes internal barriers such as self-doubt and external barriers such as occupational discrimination and harassment.
A review of the literature supports the contention that lesbian identity development and internalized homophobia can interrupt the career development process. Thorough and accurate research has been and continues to be necessary to provide comprehensive career counseling services for lesbians. The current study examined the relationship between lesbian identity development and internalized homophobia and their conjoined impact on career decision self-efficacy.
The participants for this study were women who self-identified as lesbian and were 18 years old or older. Recognizing the difficulty in obtaining a representative randomized sample because of lesbians' invisible quality (Shallenberger, 1998) and the stigma that is often attached to being lesbian or gay male, I used a "friendship network" (Keeton, 2002) to secure participants. The friendship network, like snowballing, used acquaintances who were asked to disseminate the survey packet to others whom they knew or with whom they were acquainted. This method of sampling was useful for a purposive sample (Sommer & Sommer, 1991), and therefore results can be generalized to the lesbian population.
Of the 124 respondents, 38% grew up in the South (defined as south of the Mason-Dixon Line and east of the Mississippi River), 29% grew up in the Midwest, 27% in the Northeast, and 6% in the West; the geographic background of 2% was unknown. The majority of the participants were Caucasian (n = 115), whereas a minority identified as non-Caucasian (n = 9). Of those 9, African American/Black, Hispanic, Native American, and biracial individuals were represented.
Regarding age, the largest percentage (33%) of participants was in the 35- to 44-year-old age group, whereas the other three groups had a fairly even distribution, with the 45- to 54-year-old age group at 21%, the 55 and older group also at 21%, and the 18- to 34-year-old age group at 25%. The majority of participants were relatively well educated, with 82% having earned a bachelor's degree or higher. Most respondents (78%) indicated that they were currently partnered, compared with 22% who identified themselves as single. Additional demographics, including yearly income; location of current residence; whether they lived and had grown up in a rural, urban, or suburban area; and the religion in which they had been raised, are reported in Table 1.
The instruments used to measure lesbian identity development were the Stage Allocation Measure (SAM; Cass, 1984), the Lesbian Internalized Homophobia Scale (LIHS; Szymanski, Chung, & Balsam, 2001), and the Career Decision Self-Efficacy Scale (CDSES; Taylor & Betz, 1983). I also created a 14-item demographic questionnaire, which was validated through expert analysis. Descriptive statistics for the SAM, LIHS, and CDSES were computed. Overall scores showed high levels of lesbian identity development (highest score being 7), low levels of internalized homophobia (lowest score being 1), and high confidence levels in career decision self-efficacy (highest score being 5). As a general statement, this sample would be considered well integrated, showing high lesbian identity development, low internalized homophobia, and high career decision self-efficacy.
There have been few empirical investigations testing stage models such as Cass's (1979, 1984) model, but the limited studies that have been done do support the stage-related tasks (Dunkle, 1996). Evidence supports the idea that at various points during development, particular events and cognitions occur regarding the development of lesbian and gay identity (Cox & Gallois, 1996). Shallenberger (1998) used discriminant analysis to conduct analyses of the validity of the stages' descriptions. Further analyses by Shallenberger suggested that distinguishing between Levels 1 and 2 and between Levels 5 and 6 of identity development had been difficult. Shallenberger reported no specific results.
The results of the Syzmanski et al. (2001) study supported the reliability and validity of the LIHS for assessing internalized homophobia. The intersubscale correlations identified a range of .37 to .57. The subscales were internally consistent but correlated only moderately with each other; the five subscales appear to be distinct but correlated dimensions.
Reliability testing of the CDSES has been limited in scope. Although high levels of the instrument's internal consistency reliability have been reported (.88 to .97; Robbins, 1985; Taylor & Betz, 1983), item-total score correlations have been reported as only .50 to .80 (Taylor & Betz, 1983).
Validity testing for CDSES has been more extensive, showing positive relationships between CDSES and career decisiveness (Robbins, 1985; Taylor & Betz, 1983), occupational self-efficacy (Taylor & Popma, 1990), self-esteem (Robbins, 1985), exploratory behavior (Blustein, 1989), and locus of control (Taylor & Popma, 1990).
A regression analysis was performed to examine the relationship among level of lesbian identity development, internalized homophobia, and career decision self-efficacy of lesbians (see Table 2). I assessed the impact that lesbian identity development and internalized homophobia had on career decision self-efficacy. Only the criterion variable internalized homophobia showed significant effect on career decision self-efficacy, F(2, 120) = 8.052, p < .001, adjusted [R.sup.2] = .10. Significant correlations were also found between the LIHS and the SAM and between the CDSES and the LIHS, both p < .01, indicating a direct relationship between how a woman feels about herself, which has a direct impact on career development, and career decision self-efficacy.
Although the quantitative analysis for this study showed high levels of lesbian identity, high confidence levels in career decision self-efficacy, and low internalized homophobia, the participants did not always report congruent experiences in their career paths. Women reported various ways and varying degrees that their lesbian identity had affected their career paths. This study included a demographic questionnaire that provided valuable and pertinent qualitative findings.
The demographic questionnaire had an open-ended question that requested personal thoughts and ideas regarding the impact that the participant's sexual orientation might have had on her career development and career choice. Several themes emerged from this study, including (a) disenfranchisement, (b) fear, (c) injustice/advocacy, (d) self-employment, (e) religious oppression, (f) gender/gender expression, and (g) feelings of having to compensate or feelings of incompetency. Feelings of fear, feelings of having to compensate, and disenfranchisement were predominant in the 35- to 44-year-old group. Social justice was exclusive to younger women, 25 to 34 years old. Most women who were self-employed were between the ages of 35 and 44. Women who believed that their gender was more of an obstacle were older than 45, whereas women who were younger than 35 and identified as "butch" saw gender expression as the problematic issue. Respondents who reported that their sexual identity had no impact or was helpful reported that they had either chosen their career prior to identifying as a lesbian (older than 45) or saw that being a lesbian was "helpful" or as an opportunity to change careers; the latter women were under 44 years of age. Participants in all age groups reported the same degree and frequency of religious oppression.
Although 10 women reported that their lesbian identity had no impact on career choice, many believed that their lesbian identity was why they chose to do the work they did. A common theme was injustice. Five women reported that the social service field allowed them not only to be open regarding their sexual identity but that their sexual identity gave them an edge or perspective to be successful in that field. Many women expressed sentiments such as "I know what it's like to be disenfranchised, at least in my heart and soul even though I'm part of the mainstream" or "I feel like disability services draw people who can see the 'disabilities' or 'special needs.'" Another woman reported that her lesbian identity has had great influence in her job working on antibias education and training and social justice causes. For one woman, being a lesbian, which completely "informs the content of my fiction," was the impetus for her becoming a professional writer and editor.
Twenty-eight of the participants reported that they worked in education. One woman stated,
I feel becoming a public school teacher was important to me in order to allow a lesbian presence. I feel like I am doing my part in the world community as I discuss issues of homosexuality, tolerance, and self-acceptance in my classroom ... I do become bogged down with the everyday occurrence of heterosexism and bigotry, but I know I offer a safe zone for kids.
Other women had somewhat different responses. Several women thought it was imperative to hide their sexual orientation, said it was "necessary" to do so, or expressed the fear of people finding out was always in the "back of their mind." One school administrator shared,
It is important for me to keep my sexual orientation private. I would change pronouns and as time went on, I stopped talking about my relationships. I believe some of my staff knows, but it's an unspoken understanding. I'm sorry about that. I wish I could be freer to talk about my life like everyone else. Sometimes I wonder what I'm afraid of, especially at this point in my life and career.
One woman felt her lesbianism had been hindering her job search in the public school system because much of her volunteer work had been in the gay and lesbian community. Finally, one woman stated, "I believe I would not have chosen teaching. The harassment from students is constant for both my girlfriend and I."
There were also feelings of having to compensate, whether women were open about their sexual orientation or not: "I feel like I had to be the best possible. I think if I were straight, I would be a higher level administrator." Another woman stated,
I feel that though I am proud to identify as a lesbian, I have some internal homophobia in myself when it comes to my career. I feel I must take what I can get because I already stand out by not being ashamed of letting coworkers and bosses know who I am. Much of my life I have allowed myself to have less confidence in my abilities due to thinking that others believe me to be less competent.
External forces also influenced how many felt about themselves. Many women were afraid of how others would react to their lesbianism; therefore, they stopped believing in themselves and limited their own self-expectations.
Many women chose self-employment as a career path: "In order to give myself freedom of lifestyle, I have always known that my career goals must only include complete ownership of my business." Several women also reported that they had hesitations about working for someone else as an "out" lesbian for fear of harassment, prejudice, and possible limitations on advancement.
Relocating from the South or from rural areas was expressed by some as a way to minimize what they perceived as an oppressive environment. Others felt fortunate that their sexual identity was not an issue in the workplace. Several expressed that their sexual orientation had no impact on their career, yet they reported that if others at work had known about their sexual orientation, the work environment might have been uncomfortable.
Other respondents thought that their gender identity expression played a bigger role in discrimination. Many women who identified as "butch" or "butch-dyke" felt that their masculine presence was the issue. Yount (1986) stated that widespread belief of sex role stereotyping corresponded strongly with the perceived attributes that differentiate men and women. People often have preconceived ideas of how women in U.S. culture should look and behave. Women who have not conformed throughout their life to this ideal may have suffered negative consequences, such as being labeled "incompetent," "unusual," or "less than" other employees. These difficulties arise from others being uncomfortable with this "alternative" gender expression, especially because sex role expectations have traditionally been deeply rooted in the majority culture of the United States.
The theme of religion was present in many responses. One woman who was both educated at and later worked at a Christian college found being educated and working in that environment "shattering" to her career development as a lesbian. She reported that she lost confidence in herself and became physically and emotionally debilitated. She reported, "I lost precious time in my career. I was hounded and harassed at two different jobs because I was a lesbian. Fortunately, I found another job with a supportive supervisor, and I'm now thriving personally and professionally." The term Bible Belt was also mentioned on several occasions, for example, "living in the Bible Belt, I often felt I had to keep my life private, living in the rural South is not the best place to be out." Another woman shared her experience of being "outed" and that she had not been emotionally or culturally prepared. "Being 'outed' at work violated my opportunity to do so by my own choice and stole me from that aspect of my personal rite of passage. This affected me developmentally by interrupting my natural professional development."
Women also embraced their sexual identity and regarded it as a benefit. One woman reported that she believed that being lesbian gave her confidence, assertiveness, good communication skills, and the ability to mediate. For another, being a lesbian has only been positive: "[I]t has opened up new horizons."
High levels of decision self-efficacy, high levels of lesbian identity development, and low levels of internalized homophobia did not guarantee a smooth process of career development. The incongruence between the quantitative and qualitative findings is the profound result of this study. Women who participated in this study chose their careers based on many different attributes. Some women chose occupations that allowed them freedom to express who they were, whereas others chose to hide their sexual orientation to pursue careers that interested them. Many women spoke of how their stigmatized identity allowed them to excel in professions in which they could fight injustice or be advocates for those who could not fight or advocate for themselves. Fear resonated throughout many women's responses, and although they reported high levels of identity development and career decision self-efficacy, they saw their sexual orientation as being problematic to employers.
As with many studies that have looked at the lesbian population, there are limitations in the current study. Obtaining a cross-sectional sample of the lesbian population can be difficult and challenging. This study consisted primarily of Caucasian women who were well educated and over the age of 25. As a result of the method of data collection, participation was limited to those who had computer and Internet access. The lack of random sampling may be directly related to the uneven distribution of participants in each stage of lesbian identity development. The SAM may have also contributed to the uneven distribution. The instrument was developed in 1979, and researchers have more understanding about the developmental process today. As a result, the SAM is considered dated by many contemporary researchers. Nevertheless, with no other proven instrument, the SAM continues to be the historical marker for research on lesbianism.
The low participation rate of women in the early stages of identity development may relate to the fact that those women were more difficult to access because they may not be out. According to Shallenberger (1998), if one makes the assumption that the descriptions of Cass's models are valid, the characteristics of persons in each stage give clues to their possible participation. The descriptions of persons in Stages 1 and 2 include such phrases as "confused ... would, rarely, if ever, tell anyone about the possibility of being homosexual" (Cass, as cited in Shallenberger, 1998, p. 162). Stage 3 suggests greater openness. It contains descriptors like "you see yourself as homosexual for now ... you feel the need to meet others like yourself" but also contains "you are not happy with other people knowing about your homosexuality and usually take care to put across a heterosexual image" (Cass, as cited in Shallenberger, 1998, p. 162). A fear of participation is all the more reason to educate professionals on the ramifications of bias, prejudice, and discrimination that lesbians may experience.
Lesbians who are well integrated (high lesbian identity development, high career decision self-efficacy, and low internalized homophobia) may still have formidable obstacles in their career development. This study illustrated that the issue was not only how the women felt about themselves but also how they were thought to be perceived by others. Some of the participants internalized this information, whether real or perceived, and took on those feelings of being less competent. Lesbians may possess the self-efficacy to perform specific job tasks, but the road map to their destination is clearly different, and often more complex, than that of heterosexual women.
Many women reported high levels of career decision self-efficacy, yet they also understood the potential negative implications of their sexual identity. Many of the women had learned to navigate around their sexual orientation by either hiding their sexual identity or embracing it and choosing careers that they perceived would allow them to be open. The participants reported that they felt being an open lesbian carried high risks, with issues surrounding emotional and physical safety and/or career advancement. As a result, lesbians often perceive a lack of social support necessary to be open in the workplace; therefore, learning to manage identity (identifying as a lesbian) in the workforce can become a stressful and necessary task, which can take an emotional and psychological toll.
One of the goals of this study was to determine whether the level of lesbian identity and internalized homophobia affected career decision making and career development across the life span. The results of this study raise awareness that the lesbian population has unique considerations when exploring career development and career options. Second, this study provided specific information regarding internalized homophobia and lesbian identity development, information that is essential to providing competent care to lesbian clients. Counselors can use this information to learn more about the impact that the stigma of being gay has on lesbians throughout the life span, including special needs throughout the aging process, and how the stigma against gay men and lesbians can permeate varied aspects of an individual's life, including career development and satisfaction.
Research in the area of life-span career development regarding lesbians has suggested the need for exploring the relationship between an individual's growing awareness of lesbian identity development and career decision self-efficacy. It is vital to address such issues as (a) low self-esteem, (b) fear of identity disclosure, (c) career advancement opportunities, (d) feelings of isolation, and (e) various types of harassment. The knowledge gained from this study can provide an impetus for change in how counselors work with diverse clients. The awareness that sexual orientation may have greatly affected the career development, career self-efficacy, and life satisfaction of clients may enable mental health professionals to more fully embrace the process of working with lesbian clients.
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Jane E. Rheineck, Counselor Education, University of Arkansas. Jane E. Rheineck is now in the School of Education, Human Services and Counseling, DePaul University. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Jane E. Rheineck, DePaul University, School of Education, Human Services and Counseling, 2320 North Kenmore Avenue, Chicago, IL 60614-3298 (e-mail: email@example.com).
TABLE 1 Frequency and Percentage of Demographic Variables (N = 124) Variable Frequency Percentage Race Caucasian 115 93 Non-Caucasian 9 7 Current age 18-34 31 25 35-44 41 33 45-54 26 21 55+ 26 21 Education Less than 4-year college 22 18 4-year college or more 102 82 Occupation Helping professions (e.g., education, medical, social services) 57 46 Other professions 67 54 Income $10,000-$24,999 17 14 $25,000-$39,999 32 26 $40,000-$54,999 28 23 $55,000-$69,999 24 19 $70,000+ 20 16 Missing 3 2 Relationship status Single 27 22 Partnered 97 78 Religion raised Protestant 67 54 Non-Protestant 52 42 Unknown 5 4 Area type of current residence Rural 19 15 Urban 58 47 Suburban 47 39 Area type grew up in (a) Rural 37 30 Urban 38 31 Suburban 40 32 Unknown 9 7 Region of current residence (b) West 9 7 Midwest 35 28 Northeast 36 29 South 43 35 Unknown 1 1 Region grew up in (c) West 7 6 Midwest 35 29 Northeast 33 27 South 47 38 Unknown 2 21 (a) n = 115. (b) n = 123. (c) n = 122 TABLE 2 Summary of Regression Analysis for Predicting Career Decision Self-Efficacy Using the SAM and LIHS (N = 124) Unstandardized Standardized Variable B SE B [beta] t p Constant 5.004 0.505 9.912 .000 * LIHS -0.257 0.078 -0.368 -3.313 .001 * SAM -0.024 0.062 -0.043 -0.390 .698 Note. SAM = Stage Allocation Measure (Cass, 1984); LIHS = Lesbian Internalized Homophobia Scale (Szymanski, Chung, & Balsam, 2001). [R.sup.2] = .12; Adjusted [R.sup.2] = .10; [DELTA] [R.sup.2] = .12. * p < .001.…
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Publication information: Article title: Career Decision Self-Efficacy of Lesbians throughout the Life Span. Contributors: Rheineck, Jane E. - Author. Journal title: Adultspan Journal. Volume: 4. Issue: 2 Publication date: Fall 2005. Page number: 79+. © 2009 American Counseling Association. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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