May 1999, Vol. 122, No. 5
Choosing you life's work
Book reviews from past issues
Choosing you life's work
Diversity & Womens Career Development: From Adolescence to Adulthood. By Helen Farmer and Associates. Thousands Oaks, CA, Sage Publications, 1997, 344 pp. $54, hardcover; $24.95, paper.Diversity & Womens Career Development: From Adolescence to Adulthood by Helen S. Farmer and her associates found its beginnings in a longitudinal study of career motivation patterns of 1,863 9th and 12th grade women and men in 1980. A matched sample survey conducted in 1990 resulted in the return of 459 questionnaires, from which 105 were selected for interviews during the 1991-93 period. The responses obtained during these 105 interviews served as the material for this book.
Farmer explained that work is a vital component of womens well-being. It was important to understand contemporary theory and be aware of practices that helped women make informed choices which enhance rather than restrict their lives. Using social learning theory as a framework, the author examined common career development issues experienced by women across race, ethnic, and class groups from adolescence through adulthood.
One of the underlying assumptions of Farmers study was that women were not using their full potential in the workforce; sometimes their experiences led them to believe that society didnt care whether they worked or not; the message for girls was "do what you want to do" and "be happy" while for boys it was, "get good grades so you can get into the best schools and be successful in a career."
The model for understanding inhibited academic/career motivations in women in the 1978
study recognized that womens measured achievement motivation was as high as
mens in high school, but dimmed later. The model attempted to explain the reasons
for the gap between womens striving and their later achievement. The theoretical
model of womens career choice process used by Farmer outlined the interaction
between personal and environmental factors rather than dependence on inter-
nal psychological factors as an explanation for women lagging behind men in terms of educational degrees, salary, and recognition.
The book was a lattice of the responses from the 105 individuals discussing their career paths from different personal and environmental perspectives. The responses from these individuals appeared and reappeared in different settings to explain the effects of personal and environmental factors on womens career paths. Specific personal and environmental factors explored in the book included gender differences, ethnic discrimination for persons of color, experiences of children of immigrants, rural backgrounds, family influences, and the experiences of high achievers.
Because the authors chose to focus on so many aspects of career development, information from the 105 interviews was spread thin. There were often only a few stories that were pertinent to each discussion, and some were repeated in several different places. At the end of each chapter, discussions of the themes presented in the chapter were examined from the perspective of social learning theory. Rather than testing the theoretical framework for career development issues, the limited empirical data from the interviews seemed to serve as insights which may or may not have matched up with the theoretical framework.
Summing up the varied discussions was not easy when confronted with such a wide array of detailed aspects about womens career development. However, Farmer did develop several broad conclusions in this study. Perhaps most important was that high school counselors need to provide better information about career paths to their students. She also suggested that focusing on career planning in elementary and secondary schools for both girls and boys might shift the balance in the multiple roles women have to play so that there would be a more equitable sharing of work both at home and at work. Finally, career planning education needed to include teaching decisionmaking and negotiating skills.
In the face of the perceived lack of information from counselors and others, the participants in the study themselves had suggestions for younger students. The participants pointed out that one ought to choose a career that the student really likes. They also suggested that students explore a broad collection of occupations and winnow choices for a good fit. Participants suggested that students need to plan ahead so that long range goals can sustain them in the face of obstacles. And finally, the participants emphasized perseverence.Arline Easley
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