Cultural beliefs in careers guidance

As promised, I am writing a follow-up to The East and West of Careers Guidance.  Since posting the article I have been thinking about one of our alumni (who I will call Priti) who gave feedback about her experience of Careers Guidance in the UK:

The adviser was very nice, she asked me lots of questions about my career decision making and made me think about what had led me to my career choice. I did at the end of the interview feel very sad. Although she made me think, I knew I couldn’t change my social situation or career decision. I guess although we spoke the same language we ultimately didn’t understand one another.

According to the Social Learning Theory of Career Decision Making (SLTCDM), people’s beliefs (or generalisations) about themselves and the world of work influence their approach to learning new skills, developing new interests, setting career goals, making career decisions, and taking action toward career goals. John D Krumboltz, who developed SLTCDM and was also behind Planned Happenstance, went on to say that beliefs can become so ingrained that they may not be identified by their holders as beliefs – they are taken to be unquestioned, self-evident truths.

Looking through Udaipur Palace's stained glass windowsIn Priti’s mind, the belief that her social background was determining her future career seemed to have the status of an unquestionable truth. This made it seem impossible to ask herself what she might want or even consider an option that was different from the one that had been decided for her. She may have been able to question the decision or propose equally acceptable options, but her beliefs about what would make her acceptable to her family prevented her from even considering this possibility.

By the same token, to what extent do we treat our own beliefs that career choice  is an individual decision as unquestionable truths?

According to Arulmani (2001) career preferences in India tend to be driven primarily by beliefs about the ‘prestige’ of particular careers. During my meeting with The Promise Foundation I was given an example which illustrates this. Parents might object to their daughter working as a nurse because this would involve her travelling on the bus at night in order to work shifts, and this would be seen as inappropriate. However the same parents might have no qualms with their daughter working night shifts in an IT call centre, because an IT job is perceived to be a more prestigious career. Studies in the UK (e.g. Lightbody et al., 1997) found beliefs about the prestige and respectability of a career to have a stronger influence on Asian career decision making than that of native British students.

So, how can we in our day-to-day work challenge cultural beliefs? And should we?

We clearly need to listen to the language our clients use to describe themselves, their families and their ‘world’. In addition we need to understand the role and the importance the community and family plays in the career decision making process when working with clients across different cultural groups.

Other considerations include:

  1. Is there scope in including family / the community (where practical) in the careers counselling process as opposed to just focusing on the individual?
  2. How can we effectively address conflicts between family / community and the individual’s career beliefs?

Related Reading

Related Post: Believe it or not

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