What the Literature Says*
The strength of a female’s self-efficacy is directly related to entry and persistence in NTO.
Self-efficacy measures a person’s individual perception of his or her ability to achieve a certain goal and is greatly influenced by the social environment. When it comes to choosing a major or career choice, there tends to be a positive correlation between self-efficacy and choice for both males and females, divided along traditional occupational lines. For example, the higher assessment that men make of their mathematical abilities contributes to men’s higher participation in STEM majors, and females’ lower intrinsic value of and lower self-concept of ability in mathematics and science may explain why many talented women eventually decide not to choose careers in male-dominated fields.
Aspiration: Individuals aspire to careers based upon their perceptions of their competence at career-related tasks. However, men and women form those perceptions based upon gender-based beliefs. This is how aspirations to a nontraditional career may be constrained. It follows that the higher students assess their abilities in a subject, the more likely they are to enroll in classes in that subject or choose it as their major.
Power to change tradition: A person’s self-perception of ability may have as much to do with achievement in the related field as actual ability. In one study of women in STEM careers, academic and personal self-efficacy created persistence and resiliency. Choudhuri (2004) and Pietsch (2003) maintain that for women interest and career goals come first; for men it is the opposite. These findings were consistent with Bandura’s social cognitive theory and the work of Gilligan. In a study of gifted boys and girls in grades 6-8, girls who perceived themselves as harder working and more internally motivated were more likely to aspire to careers that are male. Men feel entitled to high pay and then adjust their self-assessment of skills to match the pay expectation. In a study of gifted boys and girls in grades 6-8, girls who perceived themselves as harder working and more internally motivated were more likely to aspire to careers that are male dominated. In contrast, the career aspirations of boys seemed largely unrelated to their self perceptions.
Intrinsic career orientation: Men in nontraditional careers report a higher priority for intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards. For example, 72 percent of the “settlers” (men who actively chose the nontraditional occupation after dissatisfaction with a traditional career) reported a preference for “remaining close to professional and occupational practice rather than moving into management.”
Both attribution and fixed traits can affect motivation and confidence to achieve in nontraditional careers.
Attribution theory: This complex social cognitive theory, originated with Rotter and Heifer and extended through the work of Wiener, maintains that to what we attribute our achievements and failures affects our motivation (AWE, 2005).
Fixed traits: This refers to the belief that an attribute, for example intelligence, is determined at birth. Both fixed traits and what we attribute our achievements and failures to can negatively affect participation and completion of classes leading to nontraditional careers.
Attributing achievement: Both the source of and lack of achievement may be attributed differently for men than for women. In a study of engineering students, women attributed their successes to hard work or sources outside themselves and their failures to lack of innate ability. Men generally had opposite opinions: successes resulted from their innate abilities and failures from lack of effort or outside sources.
Effect on retention: An additional study of engineering students found that 100 percent of female students who dropped a class because of academic issues believed in fixed ability; women in engineering majors were more likely than men to declare successful engineering ability a fixed aptitude.
Stereotype Threat Theory
Achievement is positively influenced by the reduction in stereotype threat.
Stereotype Threat Evidence
Definition: Stereotype threat refers to being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group.
Females in testing situations: Women performed worse than men on an engineering skills test when stereotype threat was high and equally well when there was no stereotype threat. If males and females with the same preparation for a math test are told that males generally do better on the test, males will outperform females. Experimental work by Inzlicht & Ben-Zeev (2000) has established that stereotype threat can undermine the math performance of females.