While there are many factors that influence career success, the way someone thinks about a challenge can often have a profound impact on his or her outcome.
One area of cognition that can shape behavior is self-efficacy, or degree to which someone measures his or her ability to succeed at a task.
Socialization of women often discourages them from pursuing paths that might enhance their self-efficacy in a field, or from entering a male-dominated field entirely, leading to a gender-gap.
Self-Efficacy and Career Options
When surveyed, females reported greater self-efficacy in traditionally female roles, like dental hygienist, secretary, social worker, and elementary teacher, and males reported greater self-efficacy in male-dominated fields like engineering, accounting, and drafting. Although the two groups did not differ in ability, measured by ACT score, women tended to feel more confident in fields considered least difficult, whereas only men reported high self-efficacy the fields considered most difficult.
Sex Differences in Self-Efficacy: Factors
Although no evidence exists that women are inherently less able than men to perform in traditionally male-dominated fields, several factors may harm women’s self-efficacy in – and thus likelihood to pursue – those areas. One factor is socialization: from a young age, behaviors such as assertiveness, competitiveness, and authority are encouraged in men, whereas women are more likely to be praised for displaying nurturing, sensitive, and non-confrontational qualities – traits that do not contribute to building confidence in taking risks or pushing boundaries. Women’s under-representation in certain fields further disadvantages rising generations because they lack female role models. Finally, while men often receive societal encouragement or support from pursuing a field, women are sometimes actively discouraged by counselors from following scientific or mathematical careers.
Addressing the low self-efficacy of some women toward entering nontraditional fields and rising within chosen fields is a multi-step process. Being aware of gender biases can help parents and teachers avoid ushering women away from tools that will help them build the necessary confidence to succeed. In college, counselors who actively encourage women’s interest in a field can help to mitigate unjustified feelings of low confidence. Companies themselves can seek greater diversity by encouraging women mentoring programs and internships. Over time, steps taken to reverse the factors that lead to under-representation of women will lead to a greater number of female role models, a normalization of roles, and a gradual closing of the gender gap.