Ethnicity and Occupational Development
What factors are related to occupational selection and development of people from ethnic minorities? Unfortunately, not much research has been conducted from a developmental perspective. Rather, most researchers have focused on the limited opportunities ethnic minorities have and structural barriers, such as discrimination, that they face. Three topics have received the most focus: nontraditional occupations, vocational identity, and issues pertaining to occupational aspirations.
African American women and European American women do not differ in terms of plans to enter nontraditional occupations (Murrell, Frieze, & Frost, 1991). However, African American women who choose nontraditional occupations tend to plan for more formal education than necessary to achieve
their goal. This may actually make them overqualified for the jobs they get; for example, a woman with a college degree may be working in a job that does not require that level of education. Finally, the degree to which ethnic minorities acculturate to the predominant culture affects career choice. For example, Mexican American women who are more oriented toward Anglo culture tended to choose less prestigious and more traditional careers (Flores & O’Brien,
Vocational identity is the degree to which one views one’s occupation as a key element of identity. Research shows that vocational identity varies with both ethnicity and gender. Compared to European American women and Hispanic men, African American and European American men have higher vocational identity when they graduate from college (Steward & Krieshok, 1991). Lower vocational identity means that people define themselves primarily in terms of things in life other than work.
A person’s occupational aspiration is the kind of occupation he or she would like to have. In contrast, occupational expectation is the occupation the person believes he or she will actually get. Hispanics differ from European Americans in s everal ways with regard to these variables. They have high occupational aspirations but low expectations, and they differ in their educational attainment as a function of national origin, generational status, and social class (Arbona, 1990). However, Hispanics are similar to European Americans in occupational development and work values.
Research on occupational development of ethnic minority workers is clear on one point: Whether an organization is responsive to the needs of ethnic minorities like the African American woman in the photograph makes a big difference for employees. For example, greater occupational gender segregation has a greater negative impact on African American women’s earnings than on European American women’s earnings (Cotter et al., 2003). Both European American and ethnic minority managers who perceive their organizations as responsive and positive for ethnic minority employees are more satisfied with and committed to the organizations (Burke, 1991a, 1991b). But much still remains to be
More and more ethnically diverse individuals are going into managerial positions.
accomplished. African American managers report less choice of jobs, less acceptance, more career dissatisfaction, lower performance evaluations and promotability ratings, and more rapid attainment of plateaus in their careers than European American managers (Greenhaus, Parasuraman, & Wormley, 1990). Over 60% of African American proteges have European American mentors, which is problematic because same-ethnicity mentors provide more psychosocial support than cross-ethnicity mentors (Thomas, 1990). Nevertheless, having any mentor is more beneficial than having none (Bridges, 1996).
Finally, ethnically diverse employees’ access to managerial and authority positions is influenced by what is called the “sticky floor” (Smith & Elliott,
2002) . In other words, when one’s ethnic group dominates only entry-level positions, then leadership
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opportunities are restricted to supervising entry – level workers. However, if one’s ethnic group is predominant at higher-level positions, then leadership opportunities increase correspondingly.