Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Career Development of Women of Color and White Women: Assumptions, Conceptualization, and Interventions from an Ecological Perspective

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

Career Development of Women of Color and White Women: Assumptions, Conceptualization, and Interventions from an Ecological Perspective

Article excerpt

Current career counseling practices are based on certain assumptions about clients and their career development, and these assumptions implicitly reflect male, western European experiences and worldviews. These assumptions may not reflect the general life priorities and specific role commitments of many women of color and White women. An ecological perspective on career counseling is proposed to conceptualize the dynamic interaction between the person and the environment. This perspective holds promise for assisting career counselors in their work with women of color and White women.

Career counseling, as widely practiced today, evolved at a time when the typical career client was young, male, White, able-bodied, publicly heterosexual, and ethnically homogeneous (White immigrants from western Europe). However, today's U.S. labor force is far from homogeneous. One strategy to remedy the previously limited practice of career counseling is to make counseling available to everyone regardless of race, color, creed, affectional preference, or biological sex. In fact, the practice of career counseling has increasingly been extended to populations that vary in age, sociocultural status, race or ethnicity, and gender (Gysbers, Heppner, & Johnston, 1998).

In this article, we argue that this open-door policy of offering career counseling to everyone is insufficient in itself to address the needs of many women of color and White women. First, we briefly examine how the assumptions on which current career counseling practices are based implicitly reflect male, western European experiences and worldviews. These assumptions concern (a) the separation of work and family roles in people's lives; (b) reverence for individualism and autonomy in American life; (c) the centrality of work as life activity in people's lives; (d) the linear, progressive and rational nature of the career development process; and (e) the structure of opportunity characterizing the labor force as a whole. These assumptions render many career counseling practices either insufficient or irrelevant to the experiences of many women of color and White women. Next, we suggest that implementation of an ecological perspective may better meet the needs of many career clients today. Finally, we make suggestions to encourage the career counseling profession to embrace a broader, ecological model of career development.

It is important to emphasize the reason for the careful use of modifiers (e.g., some, many) throughout this paper. The analysis of basic assumptions related to career counseling requires an examination of broad generalizations that are rooted in gender and cultural diversity and that reflect modal expectations about career development. Little justice would be done on behalf of marginalized individuals if a new singular mold was simply substituted for previous models of career development. An innovative model embracing diversity as the core of career development is needed.

Moreover, it is important to note that not all individuals have the luxury of making career choices. For many low-income people, having a paid job is a necessity that does not often involve choices about a career path. In these situations, the oppressive nature of pervasive poverty becomes the salient influence on career development.

Career Counseling Today: Examination of Basic Assumptions

Career counseling, as widely practiced today, continues to follow a brief, three-step model that includes an intake interview, administration of assessment measures, and test interpretation (Gysbers et al., 1998). The client's role in this model is to obtain and synthesize information about self and the world of work. The subsequent job and educational decisions are expected to initiate a potentially rewarding career trajectory over time. The counselor's role is to provide the client access to sufficient information about self and work and, if necessary, to improve independent decisionmaking skills. …

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