Career Decision Self-Efficacy of Lesbians throughout the Life Span

By Rheineck, Jane E. | Adultspan Journal, Fall 2005 | Go to article overview

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.

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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.

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