Susan P. Boyer and William E. Sedlacek


Research Report  #9-86


Computer time for this study was provided by the Computer Science Center, University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland.









Susan P. Boyer and William E. Sedlacek


Research Report #9-86


            Incoming freshmen women at the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) completed a questionnaire containing the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale, the Self-Consciousness Scale, and items on perception of career barriers and career goals. A discriminant function analysis was performed to determine whether the variables self-esteem, self-consciousness and perception of barriers were predictive of career goals. The results obtained indicated that the predictor variables did not distinguish between traditional, nontraditional, neutral and no career goal women.

            Explanations to account fag the results obtained are suggested.


            Some interesting phenomena have occurred in the career development of college women. For example, more women are attending college primarily for vocational reasons as opposed to for intellectual or social reasons. Over the thirteen year period, from 1969 to 1982, the percentage of women entering college for career-related reasons increased, while the rate for men remained constant (Mason-Sowell & Sedlacek, 1984).

            While women may view college as a means for career preparation, their actual aspirations may change dramatically between matriculation and graduation. Specifically, many women enter college with nontraditional career goals but become employed in fields traditional for women when they graduate (Kingdon & Sedlacek, 1982).

            What difference does it make whether women pursue traditional or nontraditional careers? A study of recent graduates (Martinez, Sedlacek & Bachhuber, 1985) indicated that the type of career goal pursued is related to job satisfaction, salary, and satisfaction with college major. First, males were more often employed in engineering and mathematics, while females more frequently worked in education, the social sciences and in clerical fields. Second, the mean annual salary for male graduates was $5422 higher that that for females, a difference larger than that reported in an earlier study. on 1979 graduates (Knight et al., 1983). Third, males more often worked in a satisfactory position or in their chosen field, while females were still


seeking a job within their field. Finally, women graduates more often wished that they had taken a more practical, job-oriented major.

            One question that comes to mind at this point is what happens to women enroute to their career goals? The data on what happens to women's career goals are inconclusive, although some interesting patterns have immerged.

            Harmon (1972,1981) found that although women aspired to nontraditional careers in their teens, they changed to more traditional career goals when they reached their twenties. In another study, career aspirations and self-image (view of intellectual ability compared to peers) decreased between matriculation and second year of college (Chronicle of Higher Education, 1985).

            What factors relate to career goals of college women? While no direct relationship has been found between self-esteem and career aspirations (Ridgeway & Jacobson, 1979; Zuckerman, 1980a, 1980b), self-esteem has been found to be related to career maturity. Royalty, Sedlacek & Johnson (1984) found that self-esteem and career maturity increased from freshmen to senior women for career-oriented (traditional and nontraditional) women. In contrast, homemaking-oriented women did not score differently from freshmen to senior year on these measures. As the authors noted, the findings are consistent with Super's vocational theory. The positive correlation between career maturity and self-esteem is consistent with Super's proposition that individuals high


in self-esteem can make mare realistic career decisions. A positive relationship between self-esteem and satisfaction with career choice was reported by Stafford (1984), who found that congruence between present and preferred occupation was positively related to self-esteem. Women who worked in their preferred occupation felt better about themselves, regardless of the type of work performed.

            What prevents individuals from working in their chosen field? A number of researchers have proposed that barriers exist which interfere with the attainment of career goals (Astin, 1984; Hackett and Betz, 1981; Osipow, 1976; DiSabatino, 1976; O'Leary, 1974). Some of these barriers are present due to sex-rate socialization, while others occur as a result aŁ environmental deterrents. Despite the proposed existence of barriers, some women are able to attain their career goals.

            What accounts for this difference among women to overcome career obstacles? Self-consciousness may be a factor in .women's ability to overcome career barriers, and may also be related to self-esteem and career goals. According to Carver and Seheier (1983), low self-esteem individuals have difficulty performing in evaluative situations. The impaired performance of low self-esteem individuals is attributed to the interaction-between self-focus and unfavorable expectancies. The combination of focusing inward upon the self and expecting negative outcomes can often result in a tendency to disengage mentally and to


reduce efforts. Thus, self-consciousness, self-esteem and situational expectations (i.e., perception of career barriers) influence the path taken by an individual (i.e., career goals).

            A great deal remains to be learned about the pre-college career orientation of women. In particular, it is not clear how type of career goal pursued is related to self-esteem, self-consciousness, and perception of career barriers. Dispositional variables, such as self-esteem and self-consciousness, and situational attitudes, such as perception of barriers, can influence persistence in various situations (Lazarus, Kanner, Folkman, 1980). It is important to understand the personal and situational perceptions of incoming freshman women because perceptions and expectations can often result in self-fulfilling prophesies (Carson, 1982; Bower, 1975).

            In the present study, the variables self-esteem, self-consciousness and perception of barriers were analyzed to determine whether they discriminate between women with traditional, non-traditional, neutral and no career goals.


            Subjects. The sample in this study was composed of incoming freshmen women (N=124) who participated in. summer orientation at University of Maryland, College Park. As part of their summer orientation program, students were given a self-administering questionnaire containing the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (Rosenberg, 1979), the Self-Consciousness


Scale (Fenigstein, Scheier & Buss, 1975), as well as questions on career goals and perceived career barriers.

            Procedure. Self-esteem, defined as attitudes of approval or disapproval toward self, was assessed using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). The RSE contains ten Likert-format items to which subjects respond in one of four ways: strongly agree, agree, disagree, and strongly disagree. The items are scored from 0 to 3, with high scores indicating high self-esteem. Silber and Tippett (1965) found a 2-week test-retest reliability coefficient of .85 and a concurrent validity coefficient with other self-esteem measures ranging from .56 to .83. Construct validity was reported (Rosenberg, 1979) and was considered satisfactory by Wylie (1974).

            The Self-Consciousness Scale was used to measure the consistent tendency or trait of directing "attention inward or outward". ­Again, the response options were presented in Likert format, with 1=strongly agree, 2=agree, 3=neutral, 4=disagree and 5-disagree.

            Students responded to the question "Do you perceive any obstacles which could prevent the attainment of your vocational goal?" Response options were adapted from Royalty, Sedlacek & Johnson (1984). A preliminary analysis of the data indicated insufficiently large cell frequencies for the response alternatives. To compensate; responses to this question were analyzed dichotomously, with 56% of the women perceiving barriers and 44% not perceiving barriers. Women were asked to list the three occupations that were


their current vocational goals. Using the 1985 U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Statistics data, first vocational goals were coded as being traditional, nontraditional, neutral, or no career goals. Career goals were coded as traditional if 61% or more of the workers currently employed in the field were women, non-traditional if 61% or more of the workers in the field were men, and neutral if the field was not dominated (less than 61%) by either men or women (Kingdon & Sedlacek, 1982; Crawford, 1978; Slaughter, 1976).


            A step-wise discriminant function analysis was performed on the variables self-consciousness, self-esteem and perception of career barriers to determine whether they discriminate between traditional, nontraditional, neutral and no career goal women. The discriminating power of the variables was determined by computation of Wilks' lambda. Wilks' lambda was not found to be significant, indicating that career barriers, self-consciousness and self-esteem did not distinguish between women with different career goals.


            The variables self-esteem, self-consciousness and perception of career barriers were found not to discriminate between women with traditional, nontraditional, neutral or no career goals. There are a number of explanations to account for these results.

            First, many incoming freshmen women are undecided about


their careers or will change career goals between. matriculation and graduation. As Harmon (1972, 1981) noted, women aspire to nontraditional career goals in their teens but change to traditional career goals when they reach their twenties. Thus, the career goals aspired to by incoming freshmen women may be quite different from the goals actually pursued upon graduation. Even if some women are certain about their career goals as freshmen, they may still be unaware of potential barriers that may makes these goals difficult or unattainable. As a result off their lack of experience with both the university and the world of work, incoming freshmen. women may be unable to forsee potential barriers that could make the attainment of certain career goals difficult.

            There are methodological weaknesses in this study that may have influenced the results obtained. One such weakness is in the classification of career goals. Inherent in this study was the notion that nontraditional career goals are somehow more difficult to achieve, and that women who pursue these goals are likely to differ in their levels of self-esteem and self-consciousness and in their perception of barriers. Royalty et al. (1984), in a study of traditional, nontraditional and home-making oriented freshmen and senior women found no difference among the career women (traditional and nontraditional) on self-esteem or career maturity, especially as freshmen. The only difference found was that


homemaking-oriented women differed less on these variables from freshmen to senior year than the career-oriented groups. Therefore, there may be less of a difference, than that hypothesized, between women pursuing traditional and nontraditional career goals. Longitudinal designs are needed to explore how the variables self-esteem, self-consciousness and perception of barriers are related to change in career goal from freshmen to senior year.

            A second methodological weakness of this research is with the perception of barriers item. This item was constructed from the barriers cited in Royalty et al. (1984), but was not tested for reliability and validity prior to the study. In the future, it would be useful to empirically construct a scale to measure perception of career barriers since internal and external barriers have been postulated to exist which may inhibit the career achievement of women.

            While counselors cannot remove all barriers to ensure perfect equality in the workplace, they can better understand how clients see themselves in relation to perceived career barriers. By studying the relationship between career goals, personality variables and perceived career barriers for freshmen women, counselors may be able to better understand their clients, thus facilitating the therapeutic work. Furthermore, by understanding and identifying personality variables and situational attitudes ;hat impede career development, counselors may be able to design proactive treatments to prevent vocational dissatisfaction.



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