What the Evidence Says*
- Traditional awareness-raising recruitment methods such as brochures, talks, or demonstrations alone are insufficient to impact career decision-making.
- Career information materials and practices that adhere to equitable standards can increase participation in classes that lead to nontraditional careers.
Intensity of awareness-raising and interest in the field: Many of the traditional forms used to arouse a student’s interest in a STEM career, such as brochures and other print materials, field trips, talks, demonstrations, etc., are neither pivotal nor sufficient to prompt women to explore STEM fields. For men, interest precedes self-confidence, but for women, self-confidence and efficacy in the field precede interest. In a study in which this gender-based difference was applied to computing, Zarrett and Malanchuk found that women’s career decisions are more impacted than men’s by attitudes towards computers. These attitudes included both negative (geekiness and social isolation) and positive (IT solves problems and helps the world) schemas. Sanders (2005) reinforced this concept by stating that “a female’s loss of confidence in her computer abilities precedes a drop in her interest in computers.”
Career guidance practice: A 2004 Ferris State University study provided a summary statement of the career guidance situation for our students in its title: Decisions without Direction. This lack of direction might add to the selection of traditional gender-based careers. In fact, in one study of over 800 Californian high school students, the vast majority could not describe what computer science majors study. In addition, the findings of a Women at Work study point to the necessity of career guidance personnel promoting the benefits of high-wage, high-skill occupations. Schools have been successful in reducing dropout rates when they offer career education programs and make the link between academic work, college success, and careers. Also, the use of established career assessment inventories can place needed emphasis on similarities in skill sets for a particular occupation.
Women’s career “ways of knowing”: Theories of career development are changing as the workforce changes. Today’s career counseling practice originated when the audience for career counseling was mostly male, white, and young. A number of theories have evolved that are seemingly more responsive to “women’s ways of knowing,” but these theories are not empirically tested and none seem to capture the full explanation of career development for women. Turner et al. found that the paths of women to IT careers formed a roadway with many on ramps and that “interest and talent in IT emerged gradually and developed over time.”
Assessments and interest inventories: Some assessments and interest inventories analyze a male’s career interest more accurately than a female’s, and may rely too heavily on supposed aptitude. Holland’s Vocational Identity Scale and Super’s Salience Inventory, versions of which have been incorporated into online career counseling websites, were, in large part, created for and tested on males. “Screening by supposed aptitude is exclusionary and may therefore not be the best approach for increasing recruitment into STEM fields.”
Career guidance for men: Studies of men in nontraditional careers reinforce the need for career guidance practices to encourage men to pursue nontraditional careers.