AWE Literature Overview

Career Development Theory for Women in Engineering -- Abstract

Career counseling and career theory provide insight into the reasons and ways people choose their careers with a focus on assisting people in finding satisfaction in their work lives. While most WIE directors are not formally educated in career development theory and practice, or even explicitly expected to provide career counseling, they will inevitably be in a position to provide support and guidance to women who have chosen (or have yet to choose) a unique and perhaps difficult career path.

When choosing from theoretical perspectives, a counselor of women in non-traditional paths must choose wisely from the literature on career theory, which ranges from the traditional to the currently alternative. While traditional models have been criticized for their focus on middle-class males, newer, more diverse models have yet to be tested. Crozier (1999) and Cook, Heppner & O’Brien (2002) provide the following assumptions at the core of traditional theories that are problematic for women:

  • Work is central to people’s lives.

  • Work is the primary role for developing identity.

  • Work is the primary means of meeting one’s needs.

  • The paid work role can and should be isolated from other major life roles such as family roles.

  • Career counseling should be separated from personal or lifestyle counseling.

  • Career achievement is accomplished independently; achievement is completely in the control of the individual and is based solely on ability and initiative.

  • The structure of opportunity characterizes occupational choices as made freely without barriers, limitations, or stereotypes.

  • Career development is progressive, rational and linear.

Newer models seek to address the concern that women’s career development is often non-linear, both complemented and frustrated by multiple-role fulfillment, and shaped by the structure of opportunity. Such models often take into consideration the larger social context in which people function, opening a broader range of opportunities for intervention.

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Funded by The National Science Foundation (HRD 0120642 and HRD 0607081)