Women in the workforce: The effect of gender on occupational self-efficacy, work engagement and career aspirations

Rosanne L. Hartman (Department of Communication Studies, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, USA)
Emily G. Barber (Department of Communication Studies, Canisius College, Buffalo, New York, USA)

Gender in Management

ISSN: 1754-2413

Article publication date: 3 February 2020

Issue publication date: 18 February 2020

5162

Abstract

Purpose

While women perform as well as their male counterparts at work, women are drastically underrepresented in the onboarding process to senior leadership. The link between occupational self-efficacy and the role it may play in how men and women make decisions about work has not been done. The purpose of this study is to examine potential differences of occupational self-efficacy, career aspirations and work engagement between women and men.

Design/methodology/approach

Online surveys were created and sent out as emails and on social network sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

Findings

Findings indicate that occupational self-efficacy has positive effect on career aspirations of women in the workplace. Further, there was no statistically significant difference between occupational self-efficacy and work engagement between men and women. However, men were found to have statistically significantly higher career aspirations than women do.

Research limitations/implications

While men and women do not differ in occupational self-efficacy or work engagement, men do have higher career aspirations than women do. Although women may believe they can accomplish challenging tasks in the workplace, it does not mean this belief is acted upon.

Practical implications

The study highlights the importance of occupational self-efficacy and its relation to career aspirations. Individuals who are high in occupational self-efficacy may set their own path in advancing within their career. However, individuals who are low or moderate in occupational self-efficacy may require further encouragement and development using additional resources as a catalyst for advancement guidance. While no differences were found between men and women in occupational self-efficacy, human resource practitioners should develop those individuals who are low or moderate in occupational self-efficacy with coaching, training and/or mentoring to build leadership capacity, increase self-efficacy and career-planning acumen.

Social implications

Men and women behave differently when seeking career advancement and in their career aspirations. For men, advancement is linked to performance whereas women use a multi-pronged approach focusing on preparing for career success and building role competency. Differences in strategy for advancement mean men will actively engage in behaviors to advance even when they do not have the knowledge or experience to perform in the new role. Conversely, women seek to feel competent in a work role prior to seeking it out. Finding ways to mentor women toward higher self-efficacy for their next career advancement will benefit organizations overall.

Originality/value

Research examining the role of occupational self-efficacy and its relation to career aspirations does not exist in comparing men and women.

Keywords

Citation

Hartman, R.L. and Barber, E.G. (2020), "Women in the workforce: The effect of gender on occupational self-efficacy, work engagement and career aspirations", Gender in Management, Vol. 35 No. 1, pp. 92-118. https://doi.org/10.1108/GM-04-2019-0062

Publisher

:

Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited


Only 5.4 per cent of Fortune 500 chief executives are women despite representing 49.6 per cent of the world population (Flippin, 2017). According to Forbes (2019), women chief executive officers (CEOs) are on the rise with 6.6 per cent of CEO positions are currently held by women (Zillman, 2019). In organizations with a budget of more than $50m, only 12-14 per cent of the CEO’s are women (Nozawa, 2010). Although performing as well as their male counterparts, women are drastically underrepresented in the onboarding process to senior leadership (Vieito, 2012). However, discrimination because of stereotypes is not the key reason for these differences but rather one of statistical discrimination (Coffman et al., 2019). Such discrimination is rooted in beliefs about average gender differences in abilities or skills (Arrow, 1973; Bandura, 2009; Phelps, 1972; Profiroiu and Nastaca, 2016). As such, the perception of one’s ability is based on inaccuracies that lead to discriminatory behavior and self-stereotyping (Bordalo et al., 2019). Statistical discrimination is enacted through structural mechanisms within organizations and in gendered processes in society (Baumle and Fossett, 2005). These beliefs highlight perceived competencies in the workplace related to constructs such as occupational self-efficacy and career aspirations.

Occupational self-efficacy affects career goals and decisions made by women and men. These decisions emerge within organizations that actively create and reproduce gender division of labor, reify cultural definitions of masculinity and femininity and articulate the interests of men and women within the organizational structure (Connell, 2006; Grant and Tancred, 1992; Mavin and Grandy, 2012). Indeed, institutions are organized on masculine ideals (Acker, 2008). As a result, the organizing processes within an organization creates inherent inequities in areas such as job design, wages, decision-making processes, supervisory power and rules for behavior at work (Acker, 2012). These inequities influence decisions that are made about who advances in an organization and how individuals meet their career goals.

Competition, power and participation are the organizing processes within the workplace (Acker, 2008). As these organizing processes are enacted, expectations for stereotypical male behaviors are rewarded. However, women tend to focus on building relationships, working cooperatively and on using emotional intelligence (Berkery et al., 2013; Guy and Newman, 2004; Voelck, 2004). These behaviors serve a supportive function and therefore may not be part of the reward and promotion system (Singh et al., 2002; Voelck, 2004). As a result, negative beliefs about the ability of women to perform tasks within the workplace are deeply rooted and resistant to change (Coffman et al., 2019; Dickerson and Taylor, 2000). Further, women are evaluated based on gender stereotypes so that successful women are negatively evaluated while successful men are positively evaluated (Heilman and Okimoto, 2007; Profiroiu and Nastaca, 2016; Singh et al., 2002). Such evaluations impact beliefs about occupational self-efficacy.

Women with negative beliefs about their abilities or women with low occupational self-efficacy are unwilling to take risks, do not desire to be highly visible in the workplace and negatively self-present (Bandura, 2003; Bordalo et al., 2019; Borshey, 2008; Heilman and Kram, 1978). These negative beliefs impact women’s occupational self-efficacy resulting in women omitting themselves from performing leadership tasks and negatively impacts women’s leadership aspirations (Bandura, 1997; Bandura et al., 2001; Borshey, 2008; Litzky and Greenhaus, 2007; Powell and Butterfield, 2003; Sandberg, 2013). Gendered institutions are organized to support male professionals who do not have essential responsibility of daily functioning activities (Acker, 1990). Women are often doing the everyday work that is needed to keep the organization functioning (Acker, 2008). Therefore, men are able to take on leadership tasks, which are instrumental in gaining recognition because they are challenging and highly visible (Morrison and Von Ginlow, 1990). These gendered inequalities and activities emerge in the process of the organizing function within an organization (Acker, 1998).

Career decision-making and behaviors reflect self-efficacy beliefs and expectations. Gender role socialization influences self-efficacy in relation to career decision possibilities (Shin et al., 2019). Gendered career stereotypes and career decision self-efficacy is only significant for females and organizational structures sustain these stereotypes (Connell, 2006; Shin, et al., 2019). Engaging in activities that align with positive career aspirations results in valued outcomes although women do not have equal opportunity in the workplace to engage in behaviors to achieve these outcomes (Acker, 2012; Connell, 2006; Lent and Brown, 2013). Further, individuals seeking a leadership position engage in behaviors that support their goals and career aspirations (Lang and Zapf, 2015). However, men and women leaders engage in different behaviors often following traditional gender role behaviors. As a result, valued outcomes align where competition is rewarded over cooperation and favoring men (Heilman and Okimoto, 2007; Singh et al., 2002).

Research has examined the relationship among self-efficacy, work engagement and career aspirations (Bandura et al., 2001; Guarnaccia et al., 2018; Smith et al., 2011) but not within the context of both gender and occupational self-efficacy. For the organization, robust succession planning identifies motivated individuals who seek leadership opportunities to ensure business continuity. For women and men, career advancement means greater opportunity, growth, fulfillment and financial gain. However, men and women experience organizational life in different ways with different barriers and opportunities. For example, women are often excluded from the decision-making process (Bohuslava et al., 2018). Despite attempts to equalize opportunities among men and women, salary, time spent at work or duties performed by women are different from those performed by men (Profiroiu and Nastaca, 2016). Further, there is a relationship between diversity or representativeness and inclusion (Andrews and Ashworth, 2014; Shore et al., 2011). Differences exist for men and women in terms of inclusion, or in feeling as if they are part of critical organizational processes (Mor Barak et al., 1998).

Previous research has examined career decision-making of both men and women (Sharma and Kaur, 2014; Tajlili, 2014). Unclear is how a women’s occupational self-efficacy impacts how they envision their career advancement. Therefore, the purpose of this study is to examine whether occupational self-efficacy affects the career aspirations of women in the workplace as well as to uncover potential differences between men and women in these areas. Finally, this study attempts to substantiate previous research findings on work engagement.

Literature review

In seeking to uncover potential differences between men and women on occupational self-efficacy and career aspirations, a brief discussion of critical theory will highlight external forces that impact these processes. Critical theorists seek to uncover societal structures and processes, which lead to fundamental imbalances of power. The outcome is to create awareness and change at the socio-structural level. At the interpersonal level, the internalization of gender identity leads to role behavior ascribed to men and women within the culture (Crawford and Unger, 2003). As such, gender roles that reinforce gender stereotypes lead to different behaviors in day-to-day interactions. At the individual level, gender is important in the understanding of how individuals internalize of gender identity (Bohuslava et al., 2018). Specific to this research, Bandura’s (1997, 2003, 2009) explanation of the interrelationship among self-efficacy, evaluation and self-reaction on workplace behaviors lays the foundation for understanding individual behavior within the context of a constrained organizational system. The interplay among the social and political systems within the organization and the individual behavior and decision-making within the organization impact motivation and goal attainment.

Gender division of labor

Gender regime includes the overall context and pattern of gender relationships within an organization (Connell, 2006). Specifically, it includes the gender division of labor, gender relations of power, emotion and human relations and gender culture and symbolism. These patterns of relationships create a context for understanding how and why men and women separate into different occupations or departments within an organization. Moreover, gender regimes explain why men and women choose different occupations.

Women are underrepresented in positions of administrative power in all levels of public sector administration and their rise has been slow because organizational cultures fail to change (Fox and Schuhmann, 2001; Guy and Newman, 2004; Martin, 1997; Sneed, 2007; Szymborski, 1996). Some of the underrepresentation is because of horizontal segregation where job skills based on career choice are not easily transferable to other jobs (Guy and Newman, 2004; Johnson and Crum-Cano, 2011). While women are making some inroads into higher positions in organizations, there is a lack of equal distribution of men and women in job hierarchy and status in organizations. For example, women make up 56.5 per cent of the lower hierarchy within public workers sector, over half of the middle tier but less than 1/3 at the top tiers (Guy and Newman, 2004). Further, the McKinsey Report (2018) states that women are underrepresented and companies need to change how they hire and promote entry- and managerial-level employees. It further notes that women are less likely to be hired into entry-level positions even though they earn more bachelor’s degrees than men. When moving into a managerial position, the gap widens further. Women are less likely to be promoted into management positions: for every 79 women promoted into management position, 100 men are promoted (Krivkovich et al., 2018). Men hold 62 per cent of manager positions while women hold only 38 per cent. These trends have been consistent over the past four years (Krivkovich et al., 2018). The result is that there are fewer women to promote with the right experience.

These ideas are important in understanding career choices of men and women, which still often follow gender division of labor. Gender division of labor highlights how and why men and women choose different career paths. The occupational choices of psychologically androgynous individuals are least affected by perceived sex-typing of careers (Barth et al., 2018; Muldoon and Reilly, 2003). Certain careers such as nursing, elementary school teaching and social work are viewed as “gendered work” (Muldoon and Reilly, 2003; Voelck, 2004). For example, the ongoing recruitment and retention within the nursing profession sees little increase from 10 per cent of nurses whom are male. Moreover, men who enter the profession have a faster career progression than do women (Davies and Conn, 1994) and are overrepresented in senior positions than are women (Davies, 1998). These examples illustrate how societal expectations and beliefs about gender roles affect occupational self-efficacy and career aspirations. Gendered work and career choices of women influence how, where and if they enter male-dominated careers and onboard into leadership positions.

Occupational self-efficacy

The prime factor for influencing behavior is self-efficacy (Luszczynska et al., 2005). Self-efficacy comes from one’s interpretations of one’s own performance or mastery experience (Bandura, 1997, 2009; Bandura et al., 2001; Luszczynska et al., 2005). Self-efficacy is the cognitive representation of an individual’s beliefs about their capability to perform certain tasks (Wang et al., 2015). Within the workplace, occupational self-efficacy refers to the belief in one’s ability and competence to perform and execute behaviors relevant to their occupation and the judgments about the consequences of successfully performing the task (Chaudhary et al., 2012; Lent and Brown, 2013). It is useful in understanding and predicting behavior as well as in designing interventions to change behavior (Hackett and Lent, 2008).

Occupational self-efficacy is widely used in organizational research because of its potential to predict job-related outcomes. For example, the relationship between job challenges, job insecurity, choice, performance, persistence, optimism and success in challenging situations are all mediated by occupational self-efficacy (Bandura, 2003; Cohrs et al., 2006; Judge and Bono, 2001; Pajares, 1996; Stajkovid and Luthans, 1998; Tomas et al., 2019; Zimmerman, 2000). Occupational self-efficacy is related to job performance as well as job satisfaction (Bandura, 2006; Cohrs et al., 2006; Judge and Bono, 2001; Maggiori et al., 2016; Reilly et al., 2014; Stajkovid and Luthans, 1998). Mediating variables such as role ambiguity also influence occupational self-efficacy: when role ambiguity is medium or high, occupational self-efficacy is not related to job satisfaction (Smith et al., 2011). However, when role ambiguity is low, occupational self-efficacy is significantly related to job satisfaction (Smith et al., 2011).

Efficacy beliefs predict occupational choices (Bandura et al., 2001; Brown et al., 1989; Lent and Brown, 2013; Lent et al., 1986, 1987, 1991). However, gender disparities exist in career aspirations and with career pursuits (Betz and Fitzgerald, 1993). Specifically, men and women eliminate occupations they believe to be beyond their capabilities (Bandura et al., 2001). Socialization and parental beliefs help to explain the early conception children have of their career opportunities. Children’s perceived efficacy is the key determinant of their perceived occupational self-efficacy and preferred choice of work life (Bandura et al., 2001).

Although women make up 47 per cent the work force in the USA, 39 per cent of women work in occupations where women make up at least three quarters of the workforce (DeWolf, 2017). Fewer women than men choose careers in science or in technical fields (Bandura et al., 2001; Johnson et al., 2008). Analyses of gender differences reveal that perceived occupational self-efficacy predicts the traditionality of career choice and choice of college majors (Bandura et al., 2001; Betz and Hackett, 1986; Ferry et al., 2000; Garriott et al., 2013; Lent et al., 2005; Waller, 2006). For example, information technology (IT) self-efficacy and occupational stereotypes are related to attitudes toward IT jobs and these attitudes are positively related to career intentions. Findings indicate that women have lower IT intentions than men do (Johnson et al., 2008). One explanation for this finding is the lack of role models (Dryburgh, 2000; Johnson, et al., 2008). Research findings are similar for other traditional male-dominated careers.

Occupational self-efficacy further influences how and if individuals aspire for advancement within their careers (Bandura, 2009; Garriott et al., 2013; Hackett, 1995; Lent and Brown, 2013). Individuals are motivated to take action when they believe they are able to produce a desired outcome, such as working toward a new position or promotion. Individuals, who believe that their behavior has the power to produce the intended outcome even when facing difficulties, are more likely to meet their career goals (Bandura, 1997, 2009; Bandura et al., 2001). However, when individuals doubt their capabilities and face obstacles, setbacks or failures, they decrease or slacken efforts toward their goal or may settle for poorer solutions (Bandura, 2009; Bandura et al., 2001). The result is that individuals with high occupational self-efficacy behave in ways that potentially create rewarding outcomes further increasing their self-efficacy beliefs.

Perceived self-efficacy is a pivotal factor in career choice and in occupational development and pursuits (Bandura et al., 2001; Hackett, 1995; Lent et al., 1994). However, differences exist among men and women in relation to occupational self-efficacy. Specifically women have a lower sense of self-efficacy toward mastering educational requirements and job functions of occupations that are mostly occupied by males (Bandura et al., 2001). On the other hand, men have an equal sense of efficacy for traditionally male and female-dominated occupations (Bandura et al., 2001). The outcome of such beliefs may decrease the potential occupational choices that women make about their career.

People are more likely to choose to engage in an activity to the extent that they view themselves as competent at performing the activity (Lent and Brown, 2013). In other words, individuals with high occupational self-efficacy select challenging tasks while at work and have high engagement when performing those tasks. Moreover, individuals with high occupational self-efficacy engage in these tasks depending on the extent to which they aspire in their career (Dolana et al., 2011; Fritz and van Knippenberg, 2017).

Bandura (2009) suggests that women’s career aspirations are hindered because of negative beliefs about their abilities. He further finds that self-efficacy is an influential determinant of career choice. Specifically, low self-efficacy leads one to avoid activities that could further one’s career (Bandura, 2009). Dickerson and Taylor (2000) suggest that increasing self-efficacy may encourage women to participate in tasks associated with leadership characteristics such as directing others, coordinating group activities and focusing group efforts. However, despite women taking on leadership characteristics, these characteristics are negatively evaluated by others (Profiroiu and Nastaca, 2016). Specifically, there are behavioral expectations in society for those in leadership positions based on a leadership prototype (Eagly and Karou, 2002). Leadership prototypes are cognitive representations of features or ideals shared by individuals in leader positions. Difficulties arise when the behavior of female leaders conflict with those expectations leading to a prescriptive bias. The outcome is that female leaders do not possess the qualities needed to lead (Profiroiu and Nastaca, 2016). From a descriptive bias, female leaders adopt a more masculine style of leading, violating of societal norms for female behavior. The outcome is female leaders are negatively evaluated. The perceived lack of competence of female leaders means women must prove and achieve higher standards of competence.

Occupational self-efficacy addresses such questions as, “Can I do this?” or “How confident am I that I can do this?” In contrast, outcome expectations involve the question, “What will happen if I do this?” and highlight ideas related to career aspirations. Occupational self-efficacy is a primary influence on occupational behavior and outcome expectations. For example, women pursuing careers in a male-dominated field had significantly higher confidence and interest in math and science and who had parents who modeled less-traditional gender roles than women who were aspiring to enter traditional gender careers (Bona et al., 2010). Individuals expect greater positive outcomes when they view themselves as capable performers (Lent and Brown, 2013). Expectations of positive and strong outcomes at work are related to how engaged individuals are in the workplace.

Occupational self-efficacy and work engagement

The belief that one is capable of successfully achieving a task, i.e. occupational self-efficacy, leads to greater work engagement (Hirschi, 2012). High work engagement occurs when individuals willingly take on tasks, have high levels of effort and persistence when completing tasks (Bandura, 2006). Work engagement is a favorable and satisfying state of mind regarding work that is characterized by vigor, dedication and absorption (Schaufeli et al., 2002).

Chaudhary et al. (2012) characterize vigor as being high levels of energy and mental resilience while working, the willingness to invest effort in one’s work and persistence even in the face of difficulties. Employees with low occupational self-efficacy are passive in their work, slacken their efforts prematurely and are more likely to fail in their assigned tasks (Liu et al., 2017). Employees with high occupational self-efficacy are able to spend the required effort to meet their work goals, and to be persistent in the face of difficulties. As a result, high occupational self-efficacy increases engagement and facilitates goal attainment (Xanthopoulou et al., 2013).

Managers alone account for 70 per cent of the variance in team engagement, appear before a person’s performance and are the foundation of high performance and ongoing development (Gallup, 2018). Female managers are better than their male counterparts at engaging their employees because of their ability to set expectations, focus on relationship building, encouraging a positive team environment and providing career development opportunities for their employees (Adkins and Miller, 2016).

Professional growth and career development opportunities for employees within an organization are main drivers of work engagement (Quantum Workplace, 2019). However, less than half of female employees are engaged in their jobs and nearly half of women say they are seeking or considering new jobs (Gallup, 2018). Employees who know they will be recognized if they contribute to the organizations success, tend to be highly engaged (Quantum Workplace, 2019). Therefore, occupational self-efficacy links to occupational and career aspirations through the process of work engagement.

Previous research indicates that women and men do not differ on work engagement (Banihani et al., 2013). However, given the number of women seeking new positions, and that work engagement impacts performance, this study will attempt to verify past research findings on work engagement.

Career aspirations

Career aspirations reflect the desire to advance within one’s career (Strauss et al., 2012). Individuals with high career aspirations strive for opportunities pertaining to leadership, training and managing others and furthering one’s education (Strauss et al., 2012). However, men and women have different career aspirations and these career aspirations changes over time. Specifically, women lower their career aspirations over time (O’Brien et al., 2000). Girls and adolescent women initially aspire to a wide range of careers, but often select jobs that are lower in prestige, more traditional and less lucrative than those selected by men of equal skill (O’Brien et al., 2000). Women reduce their occupational aspirations later on in their academic careers having a stronger preference for a balance between work and other facets of life (Danziger and Eden, 2007). In such situations, women are placed in a double bind having to balance their career with home responsibilities. For those women who retain high career aspirations, their attempts to aspire to higher positions are often met with obstacles within the organizational structure (Connell, 2006). Specifically, gendered structures within an organization embeds power differences, creates variation in rewards and opportunities for women and men and sustains policies and practices which preserve power differences that recreate gendered patterns of interaction (Acker, 1990, 1998). The outcome is women with high career aspirations meet with institutional processes that blocks or impedes their efforts.

Variation between men and women in career decision-making can be explained by psychosocial factors including a lack of role models, a lack of career information, concerns about juggling career and family, sex-role stereotypes, limited psychosocial support and gendered organizational policies and practices (Acker, 1998; Tajlili, 2014; Whitmarsh and Wentworth, 2012). Moreover, the intersectionality of women with race, class, gender identity and other sources of oppression further disadvantages women and the choices they can make. The outcome is that women are less likely than men to desire a promotion into senior management (Litzky and Greenhaus, 2007; Ridgeway, 2001). The factors hindering how and why women make decisions perpetuate lower representation of women in leadership roles (Carbajal, 2018).

The perceived role a career has in an individual’s life influences how decisions are made about their career choices (Dolana et al., 2011). Men tend to define their career as a focal aspect of their lives whereas women perceive their career as only one aspect of their life (Tajlili, 2014). Women integrate health, community service, family and relationships attempting to create a holistic sense of self (Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Tajlili, 2014). Therefore, women view career opportunities differently than men and weigh the costs and benefits of a career position with the other competing forces operating in their lives (Dolana et al., 2011; Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Tajlili, 2014). Women consider how their work will coincide with other aspects of life such as romantic relationships and having children (Danziger and Eden, 2007; Dolana et al., 2011; Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Nemoto, 2013). Specifically, women tend to forego career progression and accept sacrificing their career to reach a better work family balance (Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016). The blending and balancing of these competing forces results in women relinquishing promotions, creates a willingness to work in part-time jobs below their education level, of having comfort in leaving the workforce for a period of time or in finding opportunities for meaningful work from home (Dolana et al., 2011; Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Tajlili, 2014). The repercussion of these considerations is that women’s career aspirations decrease over time in anticipation of future family responsibilities (Danziger and Eden, 2007; Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Ganginis et al., 2013; Sandberg, 2013).

As women make choices about their career, their career aspirations change. Dolana et al. (2011) found a positive relationship between an individual’s career aspirations and career success for men, but not necessarily for women. Rather, women seek more secure careers than do men and leave their organization for career related concerns in higher proportion than do men (Bona et al., 2010; Nemoto, 2013; Sharma and Kaur, 2014). Promotion opportunities and work-family balance are related to turnover intentions for women (Nemoto, 2013; Sharma and Kaur, 2014). On the other hand, men focus on the clarity of the job description as an important predictor for leaving (Sharma and Kaur, 2014). These findings support the moderating effect gender has on the relationship between career aspirations and career success.

Based on these differences in behavior and previous research on occupational self-efficacy and career aspirations, the question arises as to whether occupational self-efficacy might impact career aspirations of males and females differently. Further, differences in occupational self-efficacy may affect work engagement differently for men and women. Therefore, the following hypotheses can be posed:

H1.

Occupational self-efficacy will be strongly and positively related to career aspirations.

H2.

Men will have higher occupational self-efficacy than do women.

H3.

Men will have higher work engagement than do women.

H4.

Men will have higher career aspirations than do women.

Methods

Participants

The initial survey was sent out through email and social networking sites described in the procedure section below. Given that social media affects how individuals work, socialize and spend time, it is viewed as an acceptable format for social science research questionnaires (Kayam and Hirsch, 2012). Of the 182 respondents who clicked onto the survey link to open the survey, 153 respondents completed the survey for a total response rate of 84 per cent. It is unknown how many people received the link via social media sites and did not click onto the survey. Out of the 153 respondents, 62.75 per cent were female and 37.25 per cent were male. Racial and ethnic identification of respondents ranged from 92.16 per cent Caucasian, 2.61 per cent Hispanic, Latino or of Spanish origin, 2.61 per cent preferred not to answer, 1.31 per cent African American or Black, 0.65 per cent Asian and 0.65 per cent other.

Respondents were asked to write in their age. Of the respondents who completed the question on age, the age of respondents ranged from 20 to 87 years with the average age being 37.29 years. The respondents between the ages of 20 and 30 years (n = 79) consisted of 52.77 per cent of the total respondent pool; respondents between the ages of 31 and 40 years (n = 18) consisted of 12 per cent of the total respondent pool; respondents between the ages of 41 and 50 (n = 15) were 9.4 per cent of the total respondent pool (n= 15); and respondents between the ages of 51 and older (n = 38) were 25.3 per cent of the total respondent pool.

The highest degree or level of education respondents completed ranged from 1.96 per cent with a high school degree or equivalent; 0.65 per cent with trade/technical/vocational training beyond high school; 8.50 per cent with some college credit or no college degree; 7.19 per cent with an associate’s degree; 43.79 per cent with a bachelor’s degree; 32.03 per cent with a master’s degree; 3.27 per cent with a doctorate degree; and 2.61 per cent with a professional degree.

In terms of employment level, 76 per cent of the respondents were employed full-time (40 h/week), 11.11 per cent part-time (up to 39 h/week) and 3.92 per cent were either self-employed, student or retired. The research was not seeking to examine organizational type or profession and their impact on the variables under study. However, respondents were asked to report if they were currently employed in a non-profit organization or a for-profit organization because approximately 75 per cent of the non-profit workforce are women who still are underrepresented in leadership positions (Guerrero, 2019). Further, GuideStar in 2015 found that of US non-profit organizations with an annual budget of more than 50 million, only 18 per cent had a female CEO (Guerrero, 2019; Shankie, 2015). These findings are mirrored elsewhere in the non-profit world. For example, in the UKs top 50 fundraising charities, just 30 per cent have female chief executives. Because the researchers of this study work in the area of non-profits, it was critical to identify those individual respondents working in the non-profit sector. Respondents reported that 54.25 per cent worked in the for-profit sector and 26.14 per cent in the not-for-profit sector, with 19.61 per cent responding in “other” category.

Based on the respondents annual income, 3.27 per cent of the respondents earned between $1-19,999; 16.34 per cent earned between $20,000 and $39,000; 32.03 per cent earned between $40,000 and $50,000, 17.65 per cent earned between $51,000 and $79,000; 18.03 per cent earned between $80,000 and $119,000, 9.8 per cent earned $120,000 or higher; and 2.61 per cent preferred not to respond.

Procedure

The research study with a letter of consent was submitted and approved by the college institutional review board. The self-administered survey was created using Qualtrics and then administered to participants using a non-random, snowball sample. The survey was sent to peers and colleagues through email and social network sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn with a link for access to the survey. Once receiving the link, individuals who clicked onto the survey were included as respondents regardless if they completed the survey or not. Upon completion of the survey, participants were asked to pass it along to five of their friends and/or colleagues creating a snowball survey sample.

Once receiving the link, at the start of the survey, participants were asked to check an electronic “Check Box” to gain consent by either agreeing to participate in the study or not agreeing to participate in the study. If they agreed to participate in the study, they were prompted to the next screen to begin the survey questionnaire. If they did not consent, they were taken to the end of the survey and thanked for their participation. All individuals who clicked onto the survey link were included in the respondent numbers in the participants section. It is unknown as to how many individuals actually received the survey link via social media. Therefore, the respondents included were those who actually clicked onto the survey link.

Once respondents accessed the survey, they were asked series of questions specific to the variables in the study and demographic information. Participants were asked to provide demographic information regarding gender, age, education, employment status, workforce sector and salary. While further segmentation of the respondent population could have been added, these demographics were chosen for their impact on the variables of study and in an effort to reduce respondent fatigue.

The survey instructions for occupational self-efficacy directed respondents to think about each statement in regards to how they felt about mastering various tasks at work. For the work engagement portion of the questionnaire, respondents thought of the relationship they have with their organization. The career aspiration portion of the questionnaire was used to assess the degree to which participants valued their careers and aspired to advancement and leadership positions. Participants were able to opt out of the survey at any time.

Survey instruments

Occupational self-efficacy was measured using Rigotti et al.’s (2008) six-item occupational self-efficacy scale measuring the items on a five-point Likert scale ranging with 1 being not at all to 5 being completely. Sample questions include, “I can remain calm when facing difficulties in my job because I can rely on my abilities” and “I feel prepared for most of the demands in my job.” The alpha coefficient for the scale was 0.77, an acceptable reliability.

Schaufeli et al.’s (2006) work engagement scale was used which contained 15-items measuring work engagement using a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 5 with 1 being strongly disagree to 5 being strongly agree. Sample questions include, “When I get up in the morning, I feel like going to work” and “I am enthusiastic about my job.” The alpha coefficient was 0.91, an acceptable reliability.

Career aspiration was measured using Gregor and O’Brien’s (2016) 24-item career aspiration scale with a Likert scale ranging from 1 to 5 with 1 being not at all true of me to 5 being very true of me. Sample questions include, “I hope to become a leader in my career field” and “I aspire to have my contributions at work recognized by my employer.” The results obtained a reliability coefficient of 0.80, an acceptable reliability.

Results

H1 stated occupational self-efficacy would be positively related to career aspirations. Pearson r = 0.320 for a positive and moderate relationship. Therefore, H1 is moderately supported.

H2 stated that men would have higher occupational self-efficacy than would women. The mean score of the occupational self-efficacy of men (m = 28.8750, SD = 4.3061) is not significantly higher than the mean of the occupational self-efficacy of women (m = 27.8958), SD = 3.90271) at the 0.05 level (t = 1.436, DF = 150). Therefore, H2 is not supported.

H3, which stated men would have higher work engagement than would women, was not supported. The mean score of the work engagement of men (m = 95.6481, SD = 15.77334) is not significantly higher than the mean of the work engagement of women (m = 96.1075, SD = 16.51183) at the 0.05 level (t = −0.165, DF = 145). Therefore, H3 is not supported.

H4, which stated men would have higher career aspirations than would women. The mean score of the career aspirations of men (m = 80.4151, SD = 13.87781) was significantly higher than the mean of the career aspirations of women (m = 75.5495, SD = 12.50534) at the 0.05 level (t = 142, DF = 0.032). Therefore, H4 is supported.

Discussion

The current study examines the impact of gender on occupational self-efficacy, career aspirations and work engagement. Findings indicate that occupational self-efficacy has a moderate and positive relationship with career aspirations. When individuals believe they have the knowledge and skills to complete the task, they also have a desire to advance in their career. These findings support previous research on self-efficacy beliefs and career aspirations (Bandura, 2006; Bandura et al., 2001). When individuals are more confident, they persist through difficulties and are more likely to engage in behaviors that enhance their career success (Johnson et al., 2008). Such individuals understand the importance of engaging in behaviors to achieve a desired outcome (Bandura, 1997, 2006; Bandura et al., 2001). Therefore, enhancing self-efficacy beliefs about an individual’s ability to succeed, impacts how they behave and strive toward success (Fishbein and Ajzen, 1975; Johnson, et al., 2008). In this process, individuals are self-organizing, proactive and self-regulating (Bandura et al., 2001).

In an effort to enhance occupational self-efficacy of women, women must believe they are capable of performing behaviors leading to success within a specific occupation while also believing they can achieve success in the same occupational field. For example, women are more willing to pursue a career in IT when they believe they have the ability to work in the IT field (Johnson et al., 2008). It is not just a matter of believing you can do the work in an occupation but rather one must also have opportunities open to them in the field as well. Therefore, two processes are important in the movement toward women and higher career aspirations:

  1. First, women’s occupational self-efficacy must be high: women need to believe they are capable to do the work in their respective occupation.

  2. Second, women must believe that they will have the means and opportunity once in the occupational field to be successful.

To achieve these two processes, educational efforts need to move beyond attempts to create high occupational self-efficacy in fields that are traditionally male dominated and move to ways in which women can achieve and succeed once in their occupation. Career-building opportunities in academe and in professional organizations can focus on providing direct ways to support women such as creating and building internal or external mentorship opportunities. Such mentorships can strengthen beliefs about their ability to succeed and develop avenues for building political and social capital within their field (Bandura et al., 2001). Building a network of professional relationships and support creates social capitol for women that they might not otherwise have (Kumra and Vinnicombe, 2010).

To expand our knowledge on occupational self-efficacy and success, future research can explore influences such as the learning environment on women, career choices and ways to enhance occupational self-efficacy (Bona et al., 2010). However, while persistence matters for women, traditionally aligned organizations still influence a woman’s ability to succeed in an organization. Therefore, policies that remove barriers toward advancing a woman’s career should be a priority at the societal and organizational level. Addressing structural, political and social barriers which hold women back can reshape talent at the top of organizations, provide opportunities for women and make it more likely women will be able to succeed and have high career aspirations (Barsh and Yee, 2011).

Second, findings indicate that men do not have higher levels of occupational self-efficacy than women do. Both men and women believe in their capabilities to perform challenging tasks in the workplace and feel capable to do the job. However, men and women perceive jobs differently and rank job preference based on pay, security, working conditions and opportunities for promotion (Johnson and Crum-Cano, 2011). Further, men believe they are capable of performing tasks traditionally done by both men and women whereas women believe they are capable of performing tasks that are more traditionally female (Bandura, 2009; Guy and Newman, 2004). As a result, occupational self-efficacy for men and women are based on beliefs around different occupations as well as different roles and tasks. Indeed, men and women follow different career paths (Barth et al., 2018; Connell, 2006; Dolana et al., 2011). Women do not have high occupational self-efficacy in areas traditionally viewed as male (Bandura et al., 2001; Barth et al., 2018). The outcome is that men and women identify tasks challenges differently because of gender division of labor. As a result, men and women act upon and believe they are capable of performing the work based on their occupational role. Women assess their capabilities based on roles that are traditionally female roles and not within a broader spectrum of career choices. Understanding the learning environment in which women choose a career will help to identify influences that impact how and why women choose the careers that they do (Barth et al., 2018; Bona et al., 2010).

In terms of careers, approximately three-fourths of all paraprofessionals are women and almost 90 per cent of support jobs are held by women (Guy and Newman, 2004). In general, men are still in the positions of power and dominate the workplace (Acker, 2012; Eagly and Carly, 2007). Policies influence what work administrators do and who gets which jobs (Johnson and Crum-Cano, 2011). Gender stereotypes result in low representation of women in higher levels of management (Bohuslava, et al., 2018). As a result, organizations may fail to select women for leadership positions missing the talent and creativity of women (Voelck, 2004).

Another strategy for addressing occupational self-efficacy is to enhance and broaden the spectrum of career opportunities open and viewed positively by women. Women need to evaluate their potential for positive career outcomes when choosing a career (Bandura et al., 2001). Individuals with higher occupational self-efficacy seek more challenging jobs are able to control stressors that lead to emotional exhaustion and are more satisfied with their jobs (Wang et al., 2015). While careers have been identified where women are underrepresented, pathways for women to be able to succeed in these careers must be created and supported. However, even when women are employed in traditional male careers, they balance and negotiate their professional and gender identities throughout their career (Haas et al., 2016). New technologies and occupations reify occupational gender division of labor and job segregation as more men than women enter these fields (Bin Bae et al., 2017; Connell, 2006; Guy and Newman, 2004). However, women who pursue careers in male-dominated fields are significantly more confident and show greater interest in math and science than women aspiring in more traditional engendered careers (Bona et al., 2010). Research focusing on occupational gender division of labor and gender relations of power that arise from it may highlight ways to increase inclusion for women in traditional male occupations (Andrews and Ashworth, 2014; Shore et al., 2011). The outcome of such research would be to educate and change how these occupations are perceived by and acted upon by women. The intended outcome is to increase female representativeness in these occupations.

A third strategy for enhancing and broadening women’s occupational self-efficacy is to place stronger value on the knowledge and skills women use to successfully achieve tasks (Guy and Newman, 2004). Tasks often performed by men are viewed as more valued than those tasks performed by women (Carbajal, 2018; Voelck, 2004). Organizations place preferences for leaders who engage in styles that are based on masculine characteristics (Carbajal, 2018). Female managers enact more cooperative behaviors which are important for organizational success in today’s turbulent environment. Women managers focus on employee inclusion in the decision-making process, seek cooperation instead of competition, add diversity that can lead to change, place greater value on organizational effectiveness, more likely to value citizen input and communication, focus on quality and creating high morale among employees more than their male counterparts (Brudney et al., 2000; Fox and Schuhmann, 1999). Male managers describe themselves as significantly more assertive, competitive, dominant, forceful, directive and tough than female managers describe themselves (Voelck, 2004). Overall, female managers describe themselves as significantly more sensitive, appreciative, approachable, democratic and intuitive than male managers describe themselves. Interestingly, men and women report using impression management tactics that are consistent with gender role expectations (Guadagno and Cialdini, 2007). Such behaviors would not be perceived as advantageous to women (Guadagno and Cialdini, 2007).

The research findings on occupational self-efficacy further indicates that although women may believe they can accomplish challenging tasks in the workplace, it does not mean this belief is acted upon. The lack of action may occur for several reasons. Women may attempt to act upon the belief that they can accomplish tasks, but power differences in organizations creates barriers for those attempting to act upon these beliefs (Acker, 1998, 2008). Specifically, when women take on a promotion or move to advance their career, structural, political and social structures create obstacles for women. For example, evidence suggests that women experience barriers to career progression in law firms (Walsh, 2012). In general, men still occupy the positions of power in the workplace and dominate decision-making (Acker, 2012; Connell, 2006; Eagly and Carly, 2007). Decision-making within the organization reinforces gender stereotypes resulting in low representation of women in higher levels of company management (Bohuslava et al., 2018).

Other factors contribute to sex differences in the workplace such as sex discrimination, power differences in social, political, economic and bureaucratic realms, division of labor in families and in the workplace, gender based differences in management style and the persistence of disproportionately representational numbers of men and women in executive and administrative positions (Acker, 2008; Bohuslava et al., 2018; Connell, 2006; Voelck, 2004). As a result of these issues, women may opt out of and fail to act upon potential challenging tasks (Bandura et al., 2001; Powell and Butterfield, 2003; Smith et al., 2011).

Women make career decisions based on perceptions concerning their compatibility and their opportunity to reach senior management positions (Litzky and Greenhaus, 2007). As a result, when women do not feel support, do not have mentors to help transition them into senior leadership positions and the organizational hierarchy does not support women, women may not attempt to move into positions of organizational leadership. Organizations should seek ways in which senior management positions are not predominately associated with masculine characteristics and that promotion systems eliminate barriers to women’s advancement (Litzky and Greenhaus, 2007).

Women also may not act on career opportunities because decisions they make are based on other factors beyond their career. Career choices are made by women based on flexibility of work schedule, family concerns and influence of a mentor (Bona et al., 2010). Women often postpone promotion opportunities or movement to advance in their field (Sharma and Kaur, 2014; Tajlili, 2014). However, even when women have similar career aspirations and human capital when compared with men, domestic responsibilities create obstacles before they reach the glass ceiling, especially for managerial roles (Scholarios and Taylor, 2011). As a result, women may fail to receive supervisory support for career opportunities because of those constraints. Such outcomes reinforce women’s concentration in lower status work (Scholarios and Taylor, 2011). These decisions may omit them from transitioning into leadership roles later in their career. The result is that organizations fail to select women for leadership positions missing out on the talent and creative output by women (Voelck, 2004).

Findings also indicate that there is no difference between the work engagement of men and women. Engaged workers are more creative, productive and willing to go the extra mile in the workplace (Bakker and Demerouti, 2008). The individual job a person holds and the personal resources they have are key predictors of engagement when there are high job demands (Bakker and Demerouti, 2008). Unclear is how work engagement differs based on organizational role and its impact on motivational factors. Some explanations for the lower career aspirations of women include differences in what motivates women vs what motivates men. Specifically, research finds that male employees tend to be motivated in the workplace through promotion of independence, autonomy, hierarchical relations, competition, task-orientation, the establishment of status and authority and salary (Van Vianen and Fischer, 2002). On the other hand, women place less importance on job characteristics common to senior leadership roles, such as status, authority and salary than men do. Instead, women employees are motivated through promotion of a relational self, maintaining balance in life activities, participation, collaboration within organizations and peer cohesion (Van Vianen and Fischer, 2002). Differences in motivation and outcome rewards may be a key influencer in career aspirations between men and women.

Benefits and compensation influence work engagement and motivation. However, these differ for men and women as well. For example, Bohuslava et al. (2018) found significant differences between compensation packages of men and women: men received higher packages than women did. Further, men and women in the same executive position did not have equal remuneration and women are disadvantaged in the job market more than men (Bohuslava et al., 2018). Men and women also perceive what they receive differently. Men when compared to women, report equal conditions in compensation packages for both men and women while women report significant differences in their packages. In other words, men do not seem to recognize or acknowledge differences that exist between compensation packages received by men and women. To enact change, men, who have more power in organizations to create change, must realistically understand and change salary discrepancies and compensation packages differences between men and women. In addition, women can negotiate salaries and benefits more in line with their education, experience and role in the organization (Babcock and Laschever, 2007).

Finally, the fourth hypothesis of this study finds that men’s career aspirations are significantly higher than women’s career aspirations. There is a positive relationship between individual career aspirations and career success for men, but not necessarily for women (Dolana et al., 2011). Leadership aspirations of women are a predictor of career advancement in an organization and are related to interpersonal self-construal (Fritz and van Knippenberg, 2017). Women and men also differ in how they choose to progress in their career. Men have higher aspirations of job success and base their career decisions on different criteria than women do (Kim, 2004). Perceived social constraints also affect women’s occupational aspirations (Dolana et al., 2011). For example, women are more willing to sacrifice their careers even when they hold an advanced degree, are less willing to work long hours than men and expect family life will interrupt their careers (Danziger and Eden, 2007). Women are risk averse in the workplace and are reluctant to take on challenging tasks until they believe they are capable to perform the task successfully (Bandura et al., 2001; Sandberg, 2013) Women reduce their occupational aspirations later in their academic careers seeking out a balance between work and other facets of life (Danziger and Eden, 2007; Dolana et al., 2011).

Conversely, men seek ways in which to advance their career by searching for training opportunities, by seeking out leadership roles and in seeking ways to put themselves in situations where they manage others (Strauss et al., 2012). Men’s leadership aspirations are related to group relationship self-construal (Fritz and van Knippenberg, 2017). Men seek out stretch assignments for growth as well as high-visibility projects.

Men and women both believe in their abilities, but define the process of embodying their occupational self-efficacy differently. Men take opportunities head on while women prefer to feel confident they can meet the standards before they enact to avoid being seen as incompetent (Bandura et al., 2001; Barnes et al., 2019; Sandberg, 2013).

Rather than a lack of want, career aspirations are mediated by home-life responsibilities and seeking a work-life balance. Women select to take time off for family and child care, work part time to care for children or aging parents and understand the impact it has on their career in the long term (Singer et al., 2005). Further women expect child rearing to disrupt their careers (Singer et al., 2005). These trends exist for millennial women as well: they are still more likely than men to accept a less-than-ideal job or take on a position with lower salary expectations than millennial men (Fernandez-Cornejo et al., 2016; Ng et al., 2010).

The gendered substructure explains how male dominance persists regardless of attempts to implement gender equity policies (Acker, 1990, 1992, 1998). For example, Nemoto (2013) argues that long working hours reinforces the power and status differences between men and women. Also, longer working hours shapes women’s career paths into either opting out or emulating masculine workplace patterns (Nemoto, 2013). As a result, women are not represented in leadership positions and are underrepresented in positions of political and administrative authority worldwide (Connell, 2006).

Women are socialized in ways that support a more participatory and democratic manner as managers (Voelck, 2004). Women behave more collaboratively in the workplace and do not negotiate as much as men (Sandberg, 2013). Female management style focuses on “connective leadership” and relationships building. Such a style creates an organizational structure where cooperation, teamwork, qualities of transformational, democratic and people-oriented leadership style consensus building are highly valued (Maseko and Proches, 2013; Voelck, 2004). Male leadership behaviors often focus on individualism, self-reliance, power and competition (Voelck, 2004). Male leaders are assessed as being more successful even when males and females demonstrate equivalent levels of competencies (Sumner-Armstrong et al., 2008). Conscientiousness and openness to experience were stronger predictors of leadership self-efficacy for women than men, whereas extraversion was a stronger predictor of leadership self-efficacy for men than women (Huszczo and Endres, 2017).

Women are more reluctant to apply for promotions believing that strong job performance will naturally lead to rewards (Barnes et al., 2019; Sandberg, 2013). Organizations failing to recognize this expectation may find women leave the organization when better opportunities come along. As a result, there is a need for organizations to invest in succession planning which decreases the gap between men and women in leadership roles (Flippin, 2017). Mentoring is one way in which to support individuals in this succession. Mentoring builds networking relationships and creates supportive coalitions for critical social, economic and political resources that helps to mitigate uncertainties and challenges in the organization (Acquaah, 2007; Hoang and Bostjan, 2003; Jauhar and Lau, 2018; Rho and Lee, 2018). Mentoring is a way for individuals to acquire resources, information and knowledge to navigate uncertainties and challenges they may face in an organization (Acquaah, 2007; Gumkowski and Hartman, 2018; Jauhar and Lau, 2018). Strategic leadership behaviors include networking behaviors creating a need to devote time and energy to the networking process. Such networks are critical for building social capital (Kumra and Vinnicombe, 2010; Rho and Lee, 2018).

However, mentoring opportunities for women are challenging. Women find fewer opportunities and are less likely to form long-term relationships through their educational experience (Goldbeck, 2017; Fox and Schuhmann, 2001). On the other hand, male managers are more likely than women to form long-term mentoring relationships with educational mentors (Fox and Schuhmann, 2001). Further complicating the process is that both men and women are more reliant on same-sex mentors. With fewer women in positions of power, the need to establish senior women who can serve as role models is crucial (Fox and Schuhmann, 2001; Gumkowski and Hartman, 2018). Moreover, networking behaviors are part of a leaders’ strategic action (Rho and Lee, 2018). Understanding the willingness of and opportunity for engaging in the networking process reflect demographic characteristics, socioeconomic background, attitudes and personal job experience (Peng and Luo, 2000). Future research could investigate women’s career advancement when compared with men in light of networking and mentoring opportunities. The outcome of this research could highlight ways to plan mentoring programs meeting the needs of women. Programs focusing on occupational mentors who may exist outside of the organization but within a specific occupational field may increase female mentoring opportunities.

Unlike men, women do not associate networking as a path to career advancement (Flippin, 2017). Networks are a way for individuals to become connected to and positioned within a field (Hanson and Blake, 2009). Demographic diversity, such as gender, is widely recognized as a key determinant of managerial behaviors in individuals (Rho and Lee, 2018). Gender role behaviors reflect typical behaviors expected of men and women in society and therefore affect how they behave as managers within an organization (Eagly et al., 2000). When women do not recognize the impact of networking, they miss career advancement opportunities. In an effort to address this issue, training and development programs can emphasize the importance of networking skills development and create networking opportunities for women. Such an approach can offer women greater organizational access, opportunity and visibility increasing their social capital (Kumra and Vinnicombe, 2010).

Finally, the study highlights the importance of occupational self-efficacy and its relation to career aspirations. Individuals who are high in occupational self-efficacy may set their own path in advancing within their career. Occupational self-efficacy at career entry has a positive impact on salary three years later and a positive impact on salary change and career satisfaction seven years later (Abele and Spurk, 2009). While men tend to dominate traditionally male institutions and settings, women are more likely to recognize expertise and efficacy in other women (Barnes and Beaulieu, 2017). Women are moving away from traditional organizations and becoming entrepreneurs. According to a 2017 study conducted by the National Association of Women’s Business Owners, women in the USA currently own over 11 million businesses. These businesses generate over $1.7tn in annual revenue and employing 9 million people. Of those 11 million businesses, 5.4 million businesses are majority owned by women of color (State of Women’s Business Report, 2017). As a result, women are able to create a more flexible work environment with greater autonomy, pay that reflects worth, have more control over their future and can follow their passion (Castrillon, 2019).

Small, targeted conferences for women seem to be an effective means of addressing networking issues that may be contributing to the gender gap (Barnes and Beaulieu, 2017). However, individuals who are low or moderate in occupational self-efficacy may require further encouragement and development using additional resources as a catalyst for advancement guidance. As there is no difference between men and women in occupational self-efficacy, human resource practitioners should focus on those who are low or moderate as they may require organizational development resources such as coaching and training. Both coaching and training build leadership capacity, self-efficacy and career-planning acumen (Flippin, 2017; Singer et al., 2005).

Men consider career advancement to be linked to performance while women use a multi-pronged approach involving a focus on preparing for career success, role competency and empowerment by management (Flippin, 2017). Research on women leadership indicates women are not attaining CEO positions for reasons such as leadership career aspirations, experience and lack of mentors (Carbajal, 2018). In addition, token status has a significantly negative impact of women’s management aspirations but not on men’s aspirations to management (Nielsen and Madsen, 2019). Mentorship provides advice, support and feedback to mentees in an effort to boost women and their career aspirations. Senior mentors use their influence and power to advocate on behalf of their mentee, such as giving them stretch assignments, motivating and guiding relationships, greater promotion possibilities, higher job satisfaction and an increased understanding of the organizational culture (Allen et al., 2004; Glover, 2014; Gumkowski and Hartman, 2018; Hester and Setzer, 2013). Further, mentorship provides opportunities for women to be integrated into the decision-making process (Bohuslava et al., 2018). Individual with mentors and sponsors report having more career success, higher compensation, greater number of promotions, greater career and job status and more career commitment (Glover, 2014; Hester and Setzer, 2013; Sandberg, 2013). However, with women holding so few senior leadership positions, new pathways for women to become aligned with mentors and sponsors can be created to create opportunities for those who seek it (Bohuslava et al., 2018).

Limitations

While the study provides insight into the relationship among men and women, occupational self-efficacy and career aspirations, there are some study limitations. First, the data was the result of a non-random snowball sample initiated by one of the researchers. As a result, the respondent population relied on the initial respondents to forward the study link creating a sampling bias. Future research should seek ways to study these ideas using a more randomized sample to increase generalizability.

Second, gendered processes are not isolated but rather intersect with and are shaped by other forms of inequality (Acker, 2012). Although our sample was diverse with respect to gender, other demographic categories in the sample were not equally represented such as race and ethnicity. Intersectionality of other demographic categories further impacts the marginalization of women. Women will experience the workplace differently depending upon their sexual orientation, ethnicity, class and other social locations. As a result, the individual experiences of power differentials, roadblocks and systemic intersectionality impacts inequity. The current research participants do not reflect many social categories that will highlight what and how these differences occur. For example, approximately 92 per cent of the respondent population self-identified as Caucasian, meaning race and ethnicity were not well represented in this sample. Approximately 52 per cent of the respondents were between the ages of 20-30 years, where it might be expected that issues such as career choice included more options and that occupational self-efficacy would be strong for this age group when compared with older age groups. Therefore, future research should seek to include a more diverse set of respondents to further develop these ideas.

However, in this case, the respondent population had, on average, a high educational level as compared to the general population: approximately 78 per cent of the respondents completed at least a four year college/university education with 35 per cent completing a master’s degree or higher. It could be surmised that educational level of the respondents impacted the findings on career aspirations and differences between men and women. However, education level is positively associated with inclusion in an organization (Bin Bae et al., 2017). Therefore, respondents in this study may feel greater inclusiveness affecting the study findings more positively than in the general population. For example, employees with more education tend to have more relevant knowledge and information enhancing their decision-making capacity (Bin Bae et al., 2017). In addition, given that underrepresented racial and ethnic group members experience contextual barriers beyond sex differences, future research should attempt to replicate the findings using a more inclusive sample.

Third, individual responses to career aspirations may be impacted by the demographic make-up of individuals within an organization. For example, men feel anxious and make less investment in organizations where they are a minority (Chattopadhyay et al., 2010). As a result, men feel less positive about the organization reducing organizational inclusiveness (Bin Bae et al., 2017). Respondents who view themselves as a minority group at their organization could believe and behave in ways that affect choices they make concerning their career. Being different from others in an organization is negatively associated with organizational inclusion because individuals face barriers to effective communication (Bin Bae et al., 2017). Future research should attempt to identify and isolate issues such as organization position of the respondents as well as type of organization in which the respondents are currently employed.

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Further reading

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Eagly, A.H. and Chin, J.L. (2010), “Diversity and leadership in a changing world”, American Psychologist, Vol. 65 No. 3, pp. 216-224, doi: 10.1037/a0018957.

Evans, A.H. (2012), “Self-efficacy, job satisfaction and demographic variables in a nonprofit organization”, ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. 1-231, ISBN: 978-1-3395-2998-1.

Gbadamosi, G., Evans, C., Richardson, M. and Ridolfo, M. (2015), “Employability and students’ part-time work in the UK: does self-efficacy and career aspiration matter?”, British Educational Research Journal, Vol. 41 No. 6, pp. 1086-1107, doi: 10.1002/berj.3174.

Kumra, S. and Vinnicombe, S. (2008), “A study of the promotion to partner process in a professional services firm: how women are disadvantaged”, British Journal of Management, Vol. 19 No. s1, pp. S65-S74, doi: 10.1111/j.1467-8551.2008.00572.x.

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Peng, Y. and Mao, C. (2015), “The impact of person-job fit on job satisfaction: the mediator role of self efficacy”, Social Indicators Research, Vol. 121 No. 3, pp. 805-813, doi: 10.1007/s11205-014-0659-x.

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Corresponding author

Rosanne L. Hartman can be contacted at: hartmanr@canisius.edu

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