Experiences of women in non-traditional occupations in a university setting: Implications for career development

Open Access
Jin, Sungmi
Graduate Program:
Workforce Education and Development
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
October 01, 2007
Committee Members:
  • Judith Ann Kolb, Committee Chair
  • Kenneth Gray, Committee Member
  • William J Rothwell, Committee Member
  • Edgar Paul Yoder, Committee Member
  • Nontraditional occupations
  • Career choice
  • Career development
  • Women
  • University staff
Women’s participation in the workforce has dramatically increased and a great amount of literature has discussed women’s issues in the labor market. Despite women’s significant advancement, occupational segregation by gender is still persistent. This segregation tends to concentrate women in certain occupations and men in others. Even within the same occupation, division of work by gender remains a distinct phenomenon. The issues regarding workplace segregation by gender has gained significant attention in research and practice. At the same time, theories of career development, derived from various perspectives of careers, have explored unique patterns and characteristics of women’s careers. In addition to differences in career patterns, women appear to perceive the meaning of their careers differently than men. Led by this notion of women’s difference in career experiences, this study aims to describe women’s experiences in non-traditional occupations that have been dominated by men. The study also explores the meanings women derive from careers. For this purpose, in-depth interviews with 12 participants from five occupations in a university setting were conducted and interviews were analyzed by qualitative methods. Research questions specified five different interests regarding women’s career development in non-traditional occupations: 1) career entrance, 2) issues as a woman in a non-traditional occupation, 3) coping strategies for issues experienced by women, 4) perceptions of the university as a work environment, and 5) meanings of careers as defined by women. The paths participants took to arrive at their occupations revealed complexity in women’s career choices and the themes identified are: 1) undecided but making the best choice, 2) getting ready for male-dominated occupations, 3) parents’ influences in formative ways, and 4) benefits of prior work experience. The issues that participants experienced as women in non-traditional occupations include stereotyping, harassment, exclusion from male-bonded culture, and recognition of differences between men and women at work. In order to cope with issues and difficulties as women in male-dominated environments, women adopted various strategies: 1) proving their ability, 2) showing confidence, 3) knowing male culture, 4) building special bonds with colleagues, and 5) avoiding emotional reactions and communicating. The university was perceived as a positive work environment for women and participants reported they enjoyed their work in terms of serving students and working with students. Their perceptions of the university environment also included negative issues such as divisions of different work groups and perceptions as a minority compared to the same occupations in industry outside the university. Regarding their meanings for career, themes emerged which contributed to their career successes: happiness, accomplishment and commitment, independence, and balance between family and work. Recommendations for future research and practice are suggested for women’s career development and advancement.