Multicultural Perspectives in Vocational Psychology

Authored by: Frederick T. L. Leong , Lisa Y. Flores

Handbook of Vocational Psychology

Print publication date:  May  2013
Online publication date:  June  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415808170
eBook ISBN: 9780203143209
Adobe ISBN: 9781136500008




Jessica’s first assignment was a project to reduce the cost of Dynamo’s popular but mature product, a 5 1/2" floppy disk drive. She initially encountered problems, because her first supervisor was having an affair with a member of Jessica’s group. He also tried to seduce Jessica. He finally left the company as a result of his behavior. Jessica’s career was adversely affected by the supervisor’s behavior. Jessica contributed well to the company under her new supervisor. She was a quick study, and made suggestions that were later implemented. One year later, the project had exceeded its objective of a 20% cost reduction largely as a result of Jessica’s ideas. However, her supervisor credited others more than her. Jessica’s subsequent assignments were similar. She worked well on small teams, with her contributions generally underestimated due to her supervisors’ perception that her quietness was a sign of lack of understanding or confidence. Because she rarely complained, her supervisor thought that she was satisfied with her job.

Having been at Dynamo for six years, Jessica observed that many of the people who joined the company when she did, and even after her, had already moved into managerial positions. Her husband was now a department head at his company. She believed that she was doing an excellent job, and wondered why her opportunity to move up did not arise. What Jessica did not know was that her peers were effectively networking. They belonged to the same churches and outside organizations as their bosses. Their children played together and many were active in various social groups. Jessica scheduled a meeting with her supervisor to discuss her career.

During that discussion, Jessica stated her belief that she was not keeping up with her peers, most of whom were one or two promotions ahead of her. Her supervisor expressed surprise that Jessica was interested in becoming a manager. He said that she always seemed to be happy with her work, and that Jessica reminded him of the wife of one of his “closest” friends, Wang. He described Mrs. Wang as a wonderful cook and mother. When pressed, Jessica’s supervisor said that she was not “leader like,” and that she needed to be more assertive.

This meeting angered Jessica, who later discussed it with her husband. After a period of soul searching, Jessica selected Marge Ross, one of only two women managers at Dynamo, as a role model. Jessica was uncomfortable with some of Marge’s behaviors, which she considered masculine, but she became more outspoken. She began to interrupt her colleagues at meetings, learned to hold the floor when others tried to break in, and honed her presentation skills. She developed a thick skin when encountering sexual and racial jokes, especially during customer meetings and business trips. Two years later, she was offered a promotion. (Chen and Leong, 1997, p. 145)

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Multicultural Perspectives in Vocational Psychology

Towards More Effective Service for our Multicultural Clients

Case of Jessica Chang

Jessica’s first assignment was a project to reduce the cost of Dynamo’s popular but mature product, a 5 1/2" floppy disk drive. She initially encountered problems, because her first supervisor was having an affair with a member of Jessica’s group. He also tried to seduce Jessica. He finally left the company as a result of his behavior. Jessica’s career was adversely affected by the supervisor’s behavior. Jessica contributed well to the company under her new supervisor. She was a quick study, and made suggestions that were later implemented. One year later, the project had exceeded its objective of a 20% cost reduction largely as a result of Jessica’s ideas. However, her supervisor credited others more than her. Jessica’s subsequent assignments were similar. She worked well on small teams, with her contributions generally underestimated due to her supervisors’ perception that her quietness was a sign of lack of understanding or confidence. Because she rarely complained, her supervisor thought that she was satisfied with her job.

Having been at Dynamo for six years, Jessica observed that many of the people who joined the company when she did, and even after her, had already moved into managerial positions. Her husband was now a department head at his company. She believed that she was doing an excellent job, and wondered why her opportunity to move up did not arise. What Jessica did not know was that her peers were effectively networking. They belonged to the same churches and outside organizations as their bosses. Their children played together and many were active in various social groups. Jessica scheduled a meeting with her supervisor to discuss her career.

During that discussion, Jessica stated her belief that she was not keeping up with her peers, most of whom were one or two promotions ahead of her. Her supervisor expressed surprise that Jessica was interested in becoming a manager. He said that she always seemed to be happy with her work, and that Jessica reminded him of the wife of one of his “closest” friends, Wang. He described Mrs. Wang as a wonderful cook and mother. When pressed, Jessica’s supervisor said that she was not “leader like,” and that she needed to be more assertive.

This meeting angered Jessica, who later discussed it with her husband. After a period of soul searching, Jessica selected Marge Ross, one of only two women managers at Dynamo, as a role model. Jessica was uncomfortable with some of Marge’s behaviors, which she considered masculine, but she became more outspoken. She began to interrupt her colleagues at meetings, learned to hold the floor when others tried to break in, and honed her presentation skills. She developed a thick skin when encountering sexual and racial jokes, especially during customer meetings and business trips. Two years later, she was offered a promotion. (Chen and Leong, 1997, p. 145)

The section above is an excerpt from the Case of Jessica Chang which is a composite case study that was published in the Career Development Quarterly (Chen and Leong, 1997) 15 years ago. It is a case study to be used in different organizations for cultural diversity management training related to Asian Americans. The case was originally constructed by the first author as a case study for a Real World Ethics course, taught by Professor Caroline Whitbeck at MIT in the spring of 1992. This case has become a permanent part of that course. Chen based the case on incidents he encountered in his personal and professional experiences. Leong was invited to one of the workshops at ATandT/Lucent, where the case was presented. With the permission of Chen, Leong began using the case study in his consulting practice and career counseling courses. It has been used by the authors together and separately in more than 24 workshops, seminars, and courses focusing on issues faced by Asian Americans in the work environment. We have presented the case here as an illustration of the challenges and complexity of providing career counseling and interventions with culturally diverse populations which is the focus of the current chapter. In addition, in reviewing the case study ourselves we could not help but ask the question of what multicultural theories in career research and career counseling have been developed since 1997 to help us reformulate the Case of Jessica Chang. We invite the reader to revisit the excerpt of this case (and the full case study: Chen and Leong, 1997) at the end of reading this chapter to determine what advances in the multicultural perspectives in vocational psychology have been made in the last 15 years that may help us approach the career counseling or coaching of Jessica differently from the authors (Chen and Leong, 1997) and the four career experts who reacted to the case (Cook, 1997; Fouad and Tang, 1997; Shahnasarian, 1997). Finally, we also began with this case to remind ourselves and our readers that the purpose of our chapter is to critically review the literature and existing practices in order to provide more effective career services for our multicultural clients.

Definitional and Design Issues in our Knowledge-Base

In presenting a critical review of multicultural perspectives in vocational psychology, we would like to begin with a discussion of what we mean by “multicultural” for this chapter. In the United States, multicultural psychology has referred to both international and domestic multiculturalism, with the former usually labeled as cross-cultural psychology and the latter as racial and ethnic minority psychology (Leong, Leung and Cheung, 2010). Relatedly, how is multicultural counseling different from cross-cultural counseling or are they the same? We believe that it is important to clearly define the constructs under consideration and to differentiate similar but not identical concepts. In our attempts to measure cross-cultural counseling competencies in career assessment and intervention, we need to begin with some definitions and clarifications. First, there has been a tendency in the field to use the terms multicultural counseling and cross-cultural counseling interchangeably. As has been pointed out (Leong, 1994), these are different concepts and the latter term is more appropriate for two different reasons. The first reason has to do with the concept of multicultural which refers to “many cultures.” Owing to the multiculturalism movement in the United States, many psychologists and counselors had begun using the term “multicultural counseling” inappropriately to refer to what they do when they work with culturally different clients. They have confused multiculturalism as a social movement with what they do. The more appropriate term is cross-cultural counseling since it accurately describes what they do—a counselor from one particular culture is counseling a client from a different culture.

Multicultural counseling, on the other hand, means counseling with many different cultures and this is rarely what counselors and therapists are doing unless they happened to be conducting group psychotherapy with a culturally heterogeneous group of clients (i.e., counseling with many different cultures). Another exception would be a White European therapist conducting couples therapy with a Hispanic American man married to an African American woman and her co-therapist is an Asian American. Such instances are relatively rare. A White European American counselor seeing an African American client on Monday and a Mexican American client on Wednesday is not conducting “multicultural counseling”; rather, she is conducting cross-cultural counseling each time she see a client from a cultural background different from hers. Similarly, a counselor who uses a cognitive-behavioral approach with one client on Monday and a humanistic approach with a different client on Wednesday cannot really claim that he is using a multidimensional eclectic approach to therapy with his clients.

A second and more important reason why we should not use the term multicultural counseling in place of cross-cultural counseling is the nature and extent of our knowledge-base. The majority of the studies that have examined the role of culture and its potential influence on counseling and psychotherapy have been bi-cultural, that is, they have examined and compared only two cultures. Early research in cross-cultural psychology was heavily influenced by anthropology which tended to study one culture at a time in significant depth.

Using this monocultural approach, namely the study of one culture at a time, psychologists would, for example, investigate the nature and existence of depression in different countries around the world. Cross-cultural psychologists now recognize the extreme limitations of such an approach. This approach not only did not provide for direct comparisons between cultures, which is the primary focus of cross-cultural psychology, but it also provided inferences and conclusions based on implicit and biased assumptions of the investigators who tended to be from the West. This problem in turn gave rise to the second approach in cross-cultural psychology, namely bicultural studies. These studies usually involve directly collecting data from two countries and comparing the results (e.g., depression in Britain and the United States). The limitations of this approach is that later studies could not be easily compared to earlier studies since different instruments, sampling procedures, and designs may have been used even though the same topic was studied in many different bicultural studies. The ideal approach in cross-cultural psychology was, of course, the multicultural study, where three or more cultures were studied using the same design, instruments, and procedures. The more cultures that were included the better. However, these studies tend to be very expensive to undertake and there are only a handful of them in the cross-cultural psychological literature.

The implications of this methodological dilemma (i.e., multicultural studies are best but too expensive for most investigators to undertake) is that much of the knowledge-base on which cross-cultural psychology in general and cross-cultural counseling in particular is discussed and debated is derived mainly from bicultural and not multicultural studies. This predominance of bicultural studies (only two cultural groups) is also true for racial and ethnic minority psychology. Cultural diversity in the United States is usually represented by five major cultural groups. These groups include White-European Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, Asian Americans, and American Indians. There are actually very few psychological studies of all five groups together using the same design, instruments, and procedures. In fact most of the studies use the bicultural approach where only two groups are compared. Even worse, the typical comparison group is between White-European Americans and African Americans or between White-European Americans and Hispanic Americans. There are actually very few studies comparing African Americans with Hispanic Americans and comparing Hispanic Americans with Asian Americans. In summary, we do not have a knowledge-base to guide multicultural counseling since there are very few multicultural studies.

Relatedly, given the importance of competence in working with multicultural populations, the question is whether there is a difference between cultural competence versus cross-cultural competence. We believe that this is a second critical definitional problem within our field. Most White-European American counselors and psychotherapists have always been culturally competent psychologists. To be culturally competent is to be able to adapt and function effectively in one’s culture. In the same way, African American counselors and psychotherapists are also culturally competent psychologists with reference to their African American cultural heritage. So, the problem is not with cultural competence but with limited cross-cultural competence, that is, the knowledge and skills to relate and communicate effectively with someone from another culture different from your own.

White-European American psychology has always been a Eurocentric paradigm. This characteristic is not a flaw in and of itself any more than an Afrocentric psychology or an Asian-centered psychology is inherently flawed. No, the first major flaw in White American psychology is not that it is Eurocentric, but rather it is that it does not often realize or acknowledge that it is Eurocentric. The second major flaw is that American psychology operates on the assumption that its theories, scientific data, and formulations are universal when in reality it is quite Eurocentric. In other words, White American psychology not only believes that its culture-specific theories and data are universal, but actively intervenes in the lives and societies of those who are culturally different with these mistaken or at best untested theories and models.

In essence, White American psychology is a culturally competent psychology on a WITHIN-culture level, namely, its theories and interventions are quite effective and appropriate for White-European Americans. However, it is not a culturally competent psychology when it comes to an ACROSS-culture dimension. Hence, as pointed out by Tony Marsella and Paul Pedersen, White American psychology, as it currently exists, violates it own ethical codes whenever it crosses cultural boundaries without the requisite training and competencies in cross-cultural psychology, and White cultural competence is concerned with how White American psychotherapists can function with White American clients or African American psychotherapists can function with African American clients; cross-cultural competence is concerned with how and whether White American psychotherapists can function effectively with White American clients or vice versa. In other words, what we need to research and measure is NOT cultural competence but cross-cultural competence.

These definitional issues are critical to our understanding of the state of knowledge-base with regards to multicultural theories of career development and career counseling. The design of studies within our empirical knowledge-base needs to match the theorizing that we undertake and vice-versa.

Multicultural Career Theories and Research

In an earlier review, Leong and Brown (1995) used the organizing framework of cultural validity and cultural specificity to analyze the vocational psychology literature from a multicultural perspective. They developed this framework by extending the observations about the two parallel approaches within our theories and research for individuals in the Unites States who are not of European descent. Cross-cultural psychology, as the earlier approach, was strongly influenced by anthropology and is characterized by a concern with the generalizability of laws underlying the behavior of European Americans to persons of other cultures or countries. This approach reflects the tendency of anthropologists to use countries as their units of analysis (e.g., Mead’s “Growing up in Samoa” versus the United States). As a result, cross-cultural psychologists have expressed interest, for example, in whether the inverse curvilinear relationship between anxiety and performance found in the United States exists in another country, like Japan, and what cultural factors in Japan might account for observed differences in the relationship (Leong and Brown, 1995). The main driver for such an approach was to examine and evaluate the cultural validity of Western theories and models when applied to culturally diverse populations (either minorities, a country or persons in non-Western cultures).

According to Leong and Brown (1995), the second approach of ethnic minority psychology has been concerned with racial/ethnic minority issues and has been influenced by sociology. Heavily influenced by sociology as practiced in the United States, this approach has been concerned with subgroups within a country, for example, groups at different social strata or income levels. Like sociology, ethnic minority psychology has tended to use racial/ethnic groups in this country as their primary units of analysis. As such, ethnic minority psychologists have focused on understanding, for example, why racial/ethnic minority groups are segregated into certain occupational clusters as well as the role of race in observed patterns of intergenerational occupational mobility. The approach assumes that race and ethnicity are powerful social-psychological categories that have significant consequences associated with them. A more recent offshoot of this approach is critical race theory (Delgato and Stefancic).

Leong and Brown (1995) noted that there are similarities and differences between these two approaches. For example, both approaches seek to study the nature and scope of culture’s influence on the behavior of culturally-diverse individuals, whether these individuals live in different countries or are ethnic minority group members in the same country. Furthermore, some of the variables used in both approaches cut across the different levels of analyses. For example, cultural values and inter-group dynamics are central to both approaches. Yet, there are also important differences in the two approaches. The cross-cultural psychology approach is much more influenced by the “etic” perspective which focuses on identifying universal laws of behavior across disparate cultural groups (e.g., schizophrenia is universal and found in all cultures). The ethnic minority psychology approach is much more concerned with an “emic” perspective, studying the culturally unique factors in the experiences of persons in each ethnic group that cause them to behave in certain ways.

In order to increase our understanding of the career development of culturally-diverse individuals in this country and elsewhere, Leong and Brown (1995) argued that it is important that both approaches be pursued and the results integrated. As an attempt at this integration, they reviewed the literature on cross-cultural career development and counseling, using the two dimensions of cultural validity and cultural specificity as components of a unifying theoretical framework. Cultural validity is concerned with the validity of theories and models across other cultures in terms of the construct, and concurrent and predictive validity of these models for culturally different individuals (e.g., Holland’s concept of congruence has been found to be predictive of job satisfaction among White Americans). Cultural specificity is concerned with concepts, constructs, and models that are specific to certain cultural groups in terms of their role in explaining and predicting behavior (e.g., Colorism or the level of melanin in the skin of African Americans as a variable in vocational behavior).

We believe that this conceptual framework of delineating cultural validity and cultural specificity approaches in multicultural vocational psychology remains a valuable heuristic for the field. Therefore, in this chapter we consider work and career development from the perspective of multicultural psychology using this framework. In addition, it has been increasingly recognized that the boundary conditions that limit the cultural validity of our models and necessitate the exploration and inclusion of cultural specificity approaches comes from the central role played by cultural context. These contextual variables, such as ethnicity, language, values, communication style, and time orientation, hold salience for diverse groups of people (Fouad and Arbona, 1994; Leong, 1993) and play a critical role in attempts to advance multicultural career theory and practice.

Using Leong and Brown’s (1995) framework, we will begin with a review of the dominant Western models of career development and vocational behavior from a multicultural perspective. Differential career psychology, more commonly referred to as the trait-andfactor model, emphasizes matching people to jobs that fit with their unique vocational interests, abilities, personalities, and other traits (e.g., Holland, 1997; Dawis and Lofquist, 1984). Developmental career psychology, advanced by Donald Super (Super, 1990) focuses on managing work roles over the life span relative to psychosocial roles in other life domains such as family and community. Relatedly, Gottfredson’s (1981, 1996, 2002) theory of circumscription and compromise provided a promising extension of the development paradigm with a specific focus on contextual influences and constraints along the gender and race dimensions. Social learning models of career have been dominated by the social cognitive career psychology which concentrates on the role of agency in career choice and growth, asserting that people actively shape and regulate their own work and career development (Lent, Brown, and Hackett, 2002). Finally, narrative career psychology focuses on meaning-making to articulate a clear and coherent identity that enables using work to craft a personally meaningful and socially productive life-career (Savickas, 2011).

Differential Career Theory

Following the Person-Environment Fit paradigm, Holland’s (1997) theory of vocational personalities and work environments represents the quintessential model in the differential tradition. The theory states that people seek work environments that fit with their personality characteristics. A substantial body of research has examined the cultural validity of this core proposition among diverse groups, and with mixed findings (see Worthington, Flores, and Navarro 2005). Various studies have supported the cultural validity of Holland’s (1997) theory among high school and college students across several racial and ethnic groups (Day and Rounds, 1998; Day, Rounds and Swaney, 1998). On the other hand, some researchers have questioned the theory’s cultural validity for predicting the career choices of Asian Americans (Tang, Fouad and Smith, 1999) and Mexican American girls (Flores and O’Brien, 2002). Support has been found for the cultural validity of the theory’s core concepts of congruence, differentiation, and consistency among African Americans (Brown, 1995) but not among Asian Americans (Leong, 1995). On balance, the research suggests moderate support for the cultural validity of the theory and cautions its use when applied to people of color (Leong and Chou, 1994; Leong and Hardin, 2002; Leong and Serafica, 1995). Important cultural contextual factors such as family influence and obligations, racism, classism, sexism, ageism and personal and cultural history may account for some of the variability in the theory’s cultural validity.

As an extension of the trait-and-factor theory, Holland’s (1985) theory asserts that people seek work environments that allow them to express their constellation of six personality types: realistic, investigative, artistic, social, enterprising, and conventional. The six personality/work environment types were hypothesized to form the points on an equilateral hexagon (in the order RIASEC), with the distance between points indicating the similarity or dissimilarity between types.

An important question regarding the cultural validity of this theory is whether this structure of interests holds for different groups. If not, the fundamental predictions of Holland’s model may not be culturally valid. Early research on this question was mixed, with some studies finding that the structure of interests is in fact different for European Americans and other groups (e.g., Farh, Leong, and Law, 1998; Haverkamp, Collins, and Hansen, 1994; Rounds and Tracey, 1996), and other studies finding support for the basic structure (e.g., Fouad, Harmon, and Borgen, 1997; Leong, Austin, Sekaran, and Komarraju, 1998; Soh and Leong, 2001). However, more methodologically sophisticated research using large, representative, motivated samples has found good support for the cultural validity of Holland’s hypothesized structure of interest among both high school and college students across several racial/ethnic groups (Day and Rounds, 1998; Day, Rounds, and Swaney, 1998).

In addition to examining the cultural validity of the hypothesized structure of interests, the cultural validity of the predictions made by Holland’s theory must also be considered. One of the major predictions from Holland’s theory is that persons in different occupations should also evidence different patterns of interests. A number of studies have demonstrated support for this assertion (for a review of this literature pertaining to African Americans and Asian Americans, see Brown, 1995, and Leong and Hardin, 2002, respectively). Indeed, Day and Rounds (1998) report that when researchers at ACT examined the interests of students who were “very sure” of their career choice, “they found that students who chose the same occupations landed in similar hexagon locations, no matter what their racial or ethnic group” (p. 734).

There is less evidence for the cultural validity of other predictions made by Holland’s theory, however. For example, the theory states that interests should predict career choice. However, in studies with both Asian Americans (Tang, Fouad and Smith, 1999) and Mexican American girls (Flores and O’Brien, 2002), interests were not found to be significant predictors of career choice. Holland’s theory further states that congruence (match between interests and work environment), differentiation (distance between an individual’s highest and lowest interest), and consistency (similarity among top three interests) should all predict job satisfaction. Empirical support for the congruence concept is plentiful with respect to African American populations, though some evidence indicates that African Americans and other ethnic groups may experience lower congruence relative to European Americans because of real and perceived employment barriers (for a review, see Brown, 1995). However, these predictions have found little support among Asians/Asian Americans. For example, Leong et al. (1998) found that neither congruence, consistency, nor differentiation was a significant predictor of job satisfaction among employed adults in India.

Thus, while Holland’s theory has been useful in explaining the career choice behavior of European Americans, its cultural validity for other groups, particularly for Asian Americans, is limited. There appear to be several reasons for this. First, as discussed elsewhere (e.g., Leong and Chou, 1994; Leong and Hardin, 2002; Leong and Serafica, 1995), individual interests are often much less important than factors such as familial obligations to the career decisions of individuals from more collectivist cultures. Second, occupational environments described by Holland may not be equally available to ethnic minorities (Osipow, 1975), with many non-White individuals becoming channeled into lower-level realistic jobs. Holland acknowledged this to some extent, arguing that a range of “isms” (e.g., ageism, classism, racism, sexism) restrict the range of career options available to people and that if persons are blocked from pursuing the expression of the most dominant aspects of their personalities, they will pursue the next most dominant feature. However, Holland failed to articulate what the implications for personality development might be of experiencing restricted options for an extended period of time—which is the historic experience of many ethnic groups. Relatedly, Leong and Serafica (1995) point out that Holland’s theory has not addressed the role of culture in creating and sustaining environments.

Developmental Career Theory

The life-span, life-space theory of Donald Super (1990) predominates the developmental perspective on careers. According to the theory, career development involves a lifelong series of developmental stages and tasks through which individuals seek to implement their self-concepts in work roles. An individual’s success in dealing with developmental tasks indicates a specific degree of career maturity—an organizing construct in Super’s theory. Some reviews of this model have noted little empirical research on the theory’s cultural validity (Hardin, Leong, and Osipow, 2001) whereas other scholars have also pointed out the important role that contextual factors such as social class, socioeconomic status, and discrimination likely play in self-concept development and the restriction of occupational choices (Blustein, 2006). These factors likely figure into higher levels of career maturity found for Whites relative to minorities such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans (see Worthington et al., 2005) who may not value the future time orientation, independence, and assertiveness associated with being “career mature.” It has been repeatedly noted that holding minority group status itself presents additional developmental tasks that may shape the self-concept development and implementation of persons of color in this country (Arbona, 1995, 1996; Carter and Cook, 1992; Ogbu, 1987, 1989, 1992; Leong, Chao, and Hardin, 2000). Some recent attempts have been made to enhance the theory’s cultural validity by pointing to its use of life roles and values constructs as important cultural context variables (Hartung, 2002). Whereas it is readily understood that longitudinal development research is difficult to undertake, nonetheless research is needed to support the cultural validity of life-span, life-space theory if it is to be profitably applied to multicultural populations. Similarly, empirical research is needed to evaluate the cultural validity of other developmentally-based career theories, such as the one proposed by Gottfredson (2002) that expressly attends to cultural differences, remains an important need.

As Leong and Brown (1995) had pointed out, Super’s model did not systematically address the manner in which discrimination and poverty might alter the self-concept, though such literature exists in related fields. For example, Ogbu (1987, 1989, 1992), writing in the fields of anthropology and education, has suggested that in reaction to discrimination and oppression, which is believed to be inescapable and insurmountable, and in an effort to maintain a positive sense of self, many ethnic group members (termed involuntary minorities) develop a cultural identity in which the behaviors, events, symbols, and even meanings that are viewed as characteristic of the oppressors, European Americans, are viewed as inappropriate for them and, therefore, rejected.

Leong, Chao and Hardin (2000) also discussed Ogbu’s work in their exploration of the high academic achievement of Asian Americans as a group. According to Ogbu (1987, 1989, 1992), Asian Americans, unlike African Americans and Native Americans, are voluntary minorities because their families chose to come to the United States, rather than being assimilated through slavery or colonization, and therefore perceive themselves as guests. Thus, Asian Americans may be especially likely to embrace the characteristics of the dominant group, including education, as a means to success. Further, according to Sue and Okazaki’s (1990) theory of relative functionalism, the discrimination and racism faced by Asian Americans may lead to perceptions of limited occupational mobility in many fields, and thus lead individuals to perceive education as the only route to success. This, in turn, may help to explain why Asian Americans are overrepresented in education-dependent fields, such as math and science.

The possible impact of Ogbu’s (1987, 1989) and Sue and Okazaki’s (1990) assertions for the career choice behavior of certain ethnic group members has yet to be explored empirically, however. The essential point made here is that culturally relevant experiences, not unlike any other personal experience, may introduce factors affecting the nature and development of the self-concept. Relatedly, Leong and Serafica (1995) have offered that readiness to cope with developmental tasks as well as the role the self-concept may play in cross-cultural career development may vary depending on the degree of acculturation. Super, though, has not incorporated the observations identified above into his theory.

It is true that Super (1991) did argue that socioeconomic status has a twofold effect on career development in terms of “opening and closing career opportunities, and shaping occupational- and self-concepts” (p. 229). It is possible that the experience of ethnic discrimination may not just restrict ranges and types of opportunity, as most authors commonly assert, but also shape occupational- and self-concepts. Yet, the role of socioeconomic status and discrimination on occupational- and self-concepts has yet to be investigated. Super observed in 1970 (Super and Bohn, 1970) that discrimination appears to operate the same way as do socioeconomic handicaps: by motivating some people to overcome them, deterring others from trying, and preventing others who try from achieving (cf. June and Pringle, 1977). The observation has merit because one of the problems with the literature addressing the career development of ethnic minorities is that it has assumed that all individuals react to discrimination and poverty the same way, and always to their detriment. Nevertheless, Super has failed to articulate the developmental antecedents that might account for these three patterns of occupational behavior (Leong and Brown, 1995).

Whereas Super’s assertions that there exist definable stages of career development are ideas that have not been validated with the variety of ethnic groups in this country, the concept of career maturity (how well one is meeting the tasks of each stage) has received considerable attention in the literature. On the other hand, Super’s career maturity concept has been criticized because it is correlated with socioeconomic status and, because certain ethnic groups occupy the lower socioeconomic strata, the concept is viewed as culturally biased (cf. Smith, 1975, 1983). Super (1991), however, dismissed the correlations as too low to be of practical significance.

Another problem noted with the concept of career maturity is its emphasis on independence in career decision making as a hallmark of career maturity during adolescence. Such an independent decision-making style is less culturally appropriate for many individuals with a more interdependent self-construal, such as many Asian Americans and Latino/a persons. Consistent with this view, Leong (1991) found that Asian American college students exhibited a more dependent decision-making style than their European American peers, but had no less crystallized career choices. Hardin, Leong, and Osipow (2001) further showed that the conceptualization and measurement of career maturity seem unable to distinguish between independence, interdependence, and dependence, and thus may be biased against Asian Americans.

Finally, Smith (1983) had argued that career maturity researchers erroneously assume that career maturity inventories measure vocational tasks common to all ethnic groups. Smith proposed that a person’s minority status may add additional tasks not currently taken into account, such as coming to terms with how ethnic bias may affect their career development or developing discrimination-relevant coping strategies (refer also to the work of Edwards and Polite, 1992). The concept of career maturity, then, may need to be revised and remeasured with respect to different cultural groups.

Gottfredson’s Theory of Circumscription and Compromise

Gottfredson (1981, 1996, 2002) proposed a theory that may have some relevance in explaining the career development of various diverse populations (Arbona, 1995), as it was explicitly designed to account for differences in career development due to culture (at the time, gender and social class). According to the circumscription aspect of the theory, people’s self-concepts develop as they pass through a series of stages. In the first stage, the self-concept acquires an orientation to size and power, and in the second stage, the self-concept acquires an orientation towards prevailing gender roles. Most relevant to the present discussion, self-concepts acquire an orientation to social evaluation, including social class and race, in the third stage of development. In the fourth stage, the self-concept develops an orientation towards one’s internal uniqueness. A key aspect of the theory is that as people progress through the developmental stages, they successively reject occupations as unsuitable on the basis of the self-concept and the orientations acquired. Gottfredson further stated that occupational choices are a product of perceived job–self compatibility and perceived accessibility of jobs, the latter being a function of one’s perception of discrimination in the workplace. Finally, Gottfredson proposed that because the jobs perceived as suitable to the self are sometimes not perceived to be available, persons compromise their choices by sacrificing those aspects of the self-concept most recently developed and moving towards those orientations developed the earliest.

Unfortunately, very little empirical research has examined the cultural validity of these predictions. One of the few studies that has (Leung, 1993) found several differences from the original theory in a sample of Asian Americans. For example, rather than shrinking in adolescence, as the theory predicts, the zone of acceptable alternatives expanded. Further, Asian Americans were more likely to compromise sex type for prestige, which is opposite to the prediction of the theory. This finding is consistent with other research (Leong, 1991; Leung, Ivey, and Suzuki, 1994), that has demonstrated the importance of prestige to the career decision making of Asian Americans. It also fits with more general research on the validity of Gottfredson’s theory, which has yielded mixed support at best (see Vandiver and Bowman, 1996). Vandiver and Bowman have attempted to reconcile such findings using the concept of cognitive schema. They argue that the different orientations (e.g., to sex type, interests, or prestige) represent cognitive schema, and that individuals differ on which schema are most important or accessible. Thus, for an individual highly schematic for sex type, other orientations are likely to be compromised before sex type. According to this conceptualization, the Asian American participants in Leung’s (1993) study may be thought of as being schematic for prestige. Future research could examine whether different cultural groups tend, on average, to be schematic for different orientations and how these schema relate to group differences in compromise and circumscription.

Always interested in understanding cultural diversity and within-groups differences, however, Gottfredson (2002) has more recently expanded her theory using evidence from behavioral genetics to emphasize the active role individuals play in creating their own environments. She notes that most developmental psychologists (including career developmentalists) take a purely socialization approach, arguing that an individual’s interests and abilities are shaped entirely by environment. Gottfredson argues that this view is unsupported by recent evidence from behavioral genetics, and sees this view as leaving individuals passive reactants to their environments, powerless to make change. Instead, Gottfredson embraces “nature–nurture partnership theory,” which balances the influence of genetics and environments and allows individuals to be active creators of their own environments based on the types of experiences they seek and create. Gottfredosn still acknowledges, however, that all experiences are not equally available to all individuals. Rather, she sees an individual’s cultural milieu as dictating the “menu” from which one may choose experiences and opportunities.

Gottfredson (2002) makes a strong case for the behavioral genetics evidence for the nature–nurture partnership theory of development. Further, her descriptions of the ways in which culture (including barriers based on racism or discrimination) sets the parameters on the types of experiences individuals have available to them, and thus the range of alternatives that will remain as acceptable after the processes of circumscription and compromise, make intuitive sense. However, this expanded theory does not seem to generate any new, specific testable hypotheses, which is likely to contribute to the ongoing dearth of empirical research testing the cultural validity of the theory.

Despite this lack of empirical evidence, however, the theory’s practical applications continue to make the theory relevant to understanding the career development of culturally diverse individuals. An important practical application of Gottfredson’s theory has always been to use an understanding of the processes of circumscription and compromise to investigate whether individuals may have prematurely or unrealistically limited their career options. For example, the model explicitly acknowledges that one’s perceptions of accessibility and one’s self-concept are developed, in part, as a function of prevailing racial attitudes and discrimination. Further, the theory implies that if one were able to measure perceived accessibility of occupations, this perception would be found to vary as a function of one’s ethnicity. In addition, if one were able to measure one’s ethnic self-concept, how individuals see themselves as members of an ethnic group, as well as one’s socioeconomic class, then it should be possible to document a relationship between these variables and occupational choice. While many of the needed measures exist, the proposed investigations have yet to appear in the empirical literature. However, the practical implications of the theory and of understanding the role of environmental barriers in the processes of circumscription and compromise remain. For example, clients can be encouraged to explore how their experiences of discrimination, rather than their interests or abilities, may have led them to reject certain occupations as unacceptable or inaccessible.

Social Cognitive Career Theory

Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT; Lent, Brown, and Hackett, 1994) appears to offer substantial promise in furthering our understanding of the career development of diverse groups. SCCT attempts to provide a comprehensive framework to explain career choice behavior, answering the call for greater convergence of career theories (Hackett and Lent, 1992). Based upon the work of Bandura (1977, 1986), SCCT integrates and expands on earlier theories that were also based on Bandura’s work: Krumboltz’s social learning theory (Krumboltz, 1996; Krumboltz, Mitchell, and Jones, 1976) and Hackett and Betz’s (1981) career self-efficacy theory. Briefly, SCCT posits that interests are shaped by self-efficacy and outcome expectations, all three of which influence career choice. Career self-efficacy expectations are beliefs about one’s own ability to successfully perform occupationally-relevant behaviors, and these expectations determine one’s actions, effort, and persistence in regard to the behaviors. Outcome expectations, which are personal beliefs about the results of performance, are viewed by Bandura as operating independently from efficacy expectations and are dependent upon actual performance. Further, self-efficacy and outcome expectations are thought to be affected by learning experiences, which are in turn shaped by various background and person factors, including race/ethnicity (see Lent, Brown and Hackett, 1994, for more detailed discussion of the theory).

Thus, unlike the theories reviewed so far, SCCT explicitly includes culture and makes explicit hypotheses about how culture may impact the development of self-efficacy beliefs, interests, and career choice. Perhaps because of this explicit focus on culture, empirical tests of the cultural validity of SCCT abound in the literature. Based on the earlier work of Hackett and Betz (1981), numerous studies have tested the cultural validity of the hypothesis that self-efficacy beliefs influence interests and career choice (e.g., Dawkins, 1981; Hackett, Betz, Casas, and Rocha-Singh, 1992; Post, Stewart, and Smith, 1991; Post-Kammer and Smith, 1986), with the general conclusion that, “the extant research does suggest that career and academic self-efficacy significantly predict the academic achievement and career choice of people of color” (Byars and Hackett, 1998; emphasis in original).

The cultural validity of the hypothesis that interests predict career choice, however, is poorly supported. Two recent studies, one with Asian American college students (Tang, Fouad, and Smith, 1999) and the other with Mexican American girls (Flores and O’Brien, 2002) both failed to find a relationship between interests and career choice. These findings are consistent with other authors’ suggestions (e.g., Leong and Serafica, 1995) that for individuals from more collectivist cultures, one’s personal interests and self-concept may be less important in making a career choice than factors such as the wishes of one’s family. Indeed, Tang et al. found that in their sample of Asian Americans, although interests were unrelated to career choice, family involvement was a significant predictor of career choice.

In addition, both studies found acculturation directly predicted career choice. While this is consistent with other work (e.g., Leong and Chou, 1994), it is inconsistent with SCCT as originally formulated (Lent et al., 1994), which postulated that the effects of contextual factors such as acculturation on choice should be indirect. For example, acculturation would be expected to influence learning experiences, self-efficacy, and/or interests, not choice directly. Tang et al. did find the expected relationships between acculturation and self-efficacy and acculturation and interests, while Flores and O’Brien found that acculturation was unrelated to these variables. Acknowledging results such as these, Lent and his colleagues have more recently stated that “contextual factors may assert a direct influence on choice making or implementation. For example, particularly in collectivist cultures and subcultures, the wishes of influential others may hold sway over the individual’s own personal career preferences” (Lent, Brown, and Hackett, 2000, p. 38). They went even further, noting that “In individualistic cultures, as well, career interests or goals often need to be subjugated to economic or other environmental presses. Thus, SCCT posits that, when confronted by such presses, an individual’s choice behavior may be guided less by personal interests than by other environmental and person factors” (p. 38).

Other components of SCCT, such as contextual variables (e.g., barriers) and outcome expectancies, have received less attention. Thus, less is known about the cultural validity of these aspects of the theory, and important questions remain. For example, “what types of barriers, encountered by which persons and at which stage of the choice process, will have what kinds of impact?” (Lent et al., 2000, p. 40).

Regarding outcome expectancies, Bandura proposed that the outcomes one can expect to receive for a given behavior are determined solely by the adequacy of that behavior which, in turn, is dependent upon one’s efficacy expectations. But for ethnic minorities, as Brown (1995) and Byars and Hackett (Byars and Hackett, 1998; Hackett and Byars, 1996) have observed, discrimination and other forms of systematic bias determine outcomes and/or one’s expectations of outcomes, independent of the adequacy of one’s behavior. The outcome expectations aspect of Bandura’s model may help us more than the efficacy aspect in understanding the mechanisms underlying the career development of involuntary minorities (Ogbu, 1987, 1989, 1992). According to Ogbu, the job ceiling and related forms of unfair discrimination have severely weakened people’s belief that conventional means of attaining success will work for them. As a result, involuntary minorities pursue unconventional means and sometimes societally prohibited means of attaining success, not because of the lack of ability to employ conventional methods or lack of efficacy with respect to conventional methods. Consequently, both efficacy and outcome expectations may have joint and independent effects on career behavior for ethnic group members.

Career Construction Theory

As an extension of social constructionism into the domain of vocational psychology, career construction theory (Savickas, 2002; 2011), like SCCT, incorporates multicultural psychology principles by design. The theory explains how people actively construct, direct, and make meaning of their careers through their relationships and interpretations of the world. Intended for use in a multicultural society and global economy, the theory aims to inform culturally sensitive and appropriate career interventions by focusing on individuals’ subjective and personal realities (Leong and Hartung, 2003). While incorporating multicultural perspectives into its propositions, the theory is in need of empirical research, particularly with regard to its uses of identity and adaptability among its core constructs. Research is needed to examine how well career construction explains the identity development and career adaptability of diverse groups. On the other hand, the differential and developmental aspects of career construction have been well studied using primarily individual differences methods, with mixed support as noted above. As a more recent theoretical development, there is a need to undertake studies to assess career construction’s efficacy as a multicultural career counseling scheme using qualitative and case study methods like those used in psychotherapy research. Such studies would aid us in determining the theory’s cultural validity. Since such methods emphasize narratives and stories, they may prove more relevant to people in multicultural contexts by capturing the richness of their daily lives in all of their complexity.

Multicultural Career Counseling and Assessment

Cultural competencies in multicultural career counseling and assessment

Over the years, the American Psychological Association (APA), the National Career Development Association (NCDA), and other professional organizations have issued standards for effective professional practice with culturally diverse populations. Readers are encouraged to access the most recent version of these guidelines (APA, 2003; NCDA, 2009) to ensure that career counseling practices with culturally diverse clients are aligned with the recommendations.

While different sets of professional guidelines have been developed to target the specific issues faced by different segments of our society based on their socio-cultural backgrounds, there are elements that cut across all guidelines. At the most basic level, standards for culturally competent career counseling practice are based on the work of D. W. Sue and colleagues (Sue et al., 1982). These scholars developed a model of competencies that include the following components: (a) attitudes/biases, (b) knowledge, and (c) skills. This model was later expanded to include competencies for three dimensions (attitudes/biases, knowledge, skills) across (a) counselor awareness of own assumptions, values, and biases; (b) understanding the worldview of the culturally different client; and (c) developing appropriate intervention strategies and techniques (Sue, Arredondo, and McDavis, 1992). Others have continued to build upon these early formulations of cultural competencies to address competent practice with different cultural groups, such as racial/ethnic minorities, linguistic minorities, women and girls, gay, lesbian and bisexual individuals, and older adults (APA, 1993; APA, 2000; APA, 2004; APA, 2007), across different levels of intervention, such as individual, organizational, and societal levels (e.g., Sue, 2001), and in career counseling and assessment (e.g., Chung, 2003).


Culturally competent career counselors engage in an ongoing evaluation of personal attitudes and beliefs that may influence their work with culturally diverse career clients. Career counselors can possess a range of attitudes that, if left unexamined, can impede the career counseling process. In particular, for career counselors to fully appreciate how culture plays a role in the career development of the diverse clients with whom we work, we must first explore how our attitudes about work developed, our beliefs about the decision-making process, and the role of culture in our personal career journey. What values did you learn from home, school, and society that have formed the basis for your beliefs about the role of work in your life and the manner in which you make important decisions? What types of work did your family and extended family members do? How did they feel about work and what kinds of experiences did they have in the workplace? What messages did you learn from your family about work? How were important decisions made in your family?

It is important to understand that we, along with our clients, come from unique cultural backgrounds that form the foundation of values, and shapes the way in which we view and interact with the world. The cultural context helps to shape career development in a way that makes each person’s experience different. Historically, the values that are reflected in our professional practices have not always represented the diverse perspectives held by people living in a multicultural society like the U.S. Career counseling has been critiqued for its emphasis on values that largely reflect the White, Protestant, middle-class culture of individualism and autonomy, competition, the myth of meritocracy, and the centrality of the self (Flores, 2009; Young, Marshall, and Valach, 2007).

These traditional values and beliefs are reflected in career counseling practice in different ways. One example is the belief that theoretical assumptions are true for every career client. Because of experiences with oppression and discrimination, members of some groups may select careers for reasons other than personal interests (Morrow, Gore, and Campbell, 1996). A prime example of this is the underrepresentation of women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Research has shown that environmental factors, such as the lack of women role models in STEM careers and the educational climate in STEM courses, are more likely explanations of women’s decisions to choose non-STEM careers rather than personal variables such as interests (Fassinger, and Asay, 2006). Another example is the belief that key constructs in the field hold the same meaning for everyone. Research has found that people hold varied definitions about “career” and its role in their lives (Chaves et al., 2004). Finally, these traditional values are conveyed to clients when we say that they can achieve their career goals if they try hard enough. Such beliefs downplay the experiences of oppression and discrimination that serve as real barriers to the success of culturally diverse individuals in the schools and the workplace (Fouad and Byars-Winston, 2005).


In addition to assessing your assumptions, values, and beliefs, culturally competent career counselors also strive to understand themselves and their culturally diverse clients as cultural beings. This includes having a firm understanding of identity development (e.g., gender identity, racial identity, sexual orientation identity) and worldview models and being able to assess how these variables are related to career decisions and experiences in the workplace. As career counseling professionals, we must assess our clients’ values and use their values to guide our work and to tailor our practices so that they reflect the client’s values and worldview. Career counselors should be cautious against assuming that all individuals from a certain cultural group—especially those who share your cultural background—have had similar life experiences and share common values about work.

Our knowledge of different cultures and the experiences of members from those cultures in our society is a critical element for effective career counseling. In particular, career counselors must be aware of and sensitive to the history that various cultural groups have faced in the U.S. Our country has a long history of instituting policies that have discriminated against the civil rights of racial/ethnic minorities, women, gay/lesbian/bisexual individuals, foreign-born, the poor, and persons with disabilities.

Career counselors also should possess knowledge of the institutional and individual barriers that members from marginalized groups experience in school and the workplace. For many of these individuals, work and school are contexts where they encounter oppression (racism, sexism, classism, xenophobia, homophobia). For instance, research studies have reported that people of color perceived more work barriers than Whites (Fouad and Byars-Winston, 2005), and that racially diverse workers are more likely to report experiences of racial discrimination at work than White workers (Krieger et al., 2008; Raver and Nishii, 2010; Shannon, Rospenda, Richman, and Minich, 2009).

A recent meta-analysis found that perceived discrimination had a negative effect on both mental and physical health outcomes (Pascoe and Richman, 2009). Another reported that people of color shared similar levels of academic and work aspirations as Whites; however, they perceived fewer career opportunities than Whites (Fouad and Byars-Winston, 2005). Consequently, career counselors need to carefully understand the context of work (or school) for members from culturally diverse backgrounds to better serve their needs. Career counselors working with culturally diverse clients thoroughly assess the effects of oppression on the physical, mental, and occupational outcomes of their clients. Understanding the past and current experiences of culturally diverse groups in our society and within institutional systems may help to inform the career counselor about the career decision making of culturally diverse clients.


Culturally competent professionals also seek to apply culturally appropriate clinical intervention skills in practice, and can do so at various levels of intervention (i.e., individual, organizational, societal; Sue, 2001). Career counseling practitioners conceptualize the client’s presenting career issues from the client’s cultural context and take into consideration cultural factors in career assessment. They are aware of the limitations of traditional career development theories in their applications with culturally diverse clients, and they put culture in the forefront in identifying the most effective strategies to help their culturally diverse clients achieve their goals in career counseling. Other culturally appropriate skills relevant to career counseling may include educating clients about social barriers, providing concrete help such as job interviewing strategies, discussing interventions used and reasons for utilizing these interventions, and inviting important members of the family to be involved in the process.


For years, leading scholars have advocated the importance of multicultural training among career counseling professionals (e.g., Fouad, 1993; Ward and Bingham, 1993). A recent national survey of career counselors provided a link between training and culturally competent practice. In this study, researchers found that the amount of multicultural counseling training that career counselors received and the amount of experience they had working with career clients from diverse cultural backgrounds were significantly related to both self-reported and externally rated multicultural career counseling competencies (Vespia, Fitzpatrick, Fouad, Kantamneni, and Chen. 2010). Ongoing training and self-assessment of awareness, knowledge and skills along with actual work experiences with diverse clients will increase the likelihood that career counselors are operating in a culturally sensitive manner with all career clients.

Models of Multicultural Career Counseling and Assessment

A number of models and frameworks have been proposed for providing culturally sensitive career counseling with culturally diverse clients that can be applied to all clients. Significant components of these models include the attention placed on identifying cultural and contextual factors that impact on individuals’ career concerns and the identification and selection of culturally appropriate interventions. Career counselors are encouraged to become familiar with these models to inform their career counseling and assessment with culturally diverse clients.

Multicultural career counseling models

Fouad and Bingham’s (1995) Culturally Appropriate Career Counseling Model provides a seven-step process that can guide career counselors’ work with culturally diverse clients. The seven steps within the model are: 1) establishing rapport and a culturally appropriate relationship; 2) identification of career concerns; 3) examination of the impact of cultural variables on the identified concerns; 4) establishing goals consistent with the client’s worldview; 5) identifying culturally appropriate interventions; 6) decision making and implementation; and, 7) follow-up. Fouad and Bingham indicate that a prerequisite for working effectively within this framework is that the career counselor possesses multicultural competencies.

The first step focuses on building a strong relationship with culturally diverse career clients. The parameters of the relationship are influenced by the cultural background of the client, and the career counselor seeks to understand the expectations that the client has of the counselor and of the career counseling process. In the second step, the career counselor uses a broad conceptual framework to identify the client’s career concerns within the client’s cultural context. Fouad and Bingham outline five areas that can serve as the root of a client’s career issues: cognitive, socio-emotional, environmental, behavioral, and external barriers. The influence of cultural variables on the client’s career concerns is explored in the third stage of career counseling. Individual, gender, family, cultural group, and majority culture factors are examined and their relative salience in the client’s career development are evaluated to understand how they interact to influence career decision making. In the fourth step, the counselor and client work together to identify interventions and to set goals for career counseling that are consistent with the client’s cultural values and worldview. Cultural consistency between the client’s background and the interventions and goals will only occur with a thorough review of the client at steps 2 and 3 and is expected to increase the likelihood of the effectiveness of career counseling services.

Step 5 involves the implementation of the culturally appropriate intervention strategies that were identified at the previous step. This step might involve career assessment, group interventions, family involvement, or the development of support networks, depending on the client’s career issues and the cultural factors related to the career concerns. In the sixth step, the career counselor assists the client in making career-related decisions and helps the client assess the possible outcomes to the different options. Finally, the client is encouraged to implement the plan and the career counselor follows-up with the client to assess the plan’s effectiveness.

Leong and Hartung’s (1997) Integrative-Sequential Conceptual Framework for Cross-Cultural Career Counseling expands beyond the point of contact with the career clients to consider the events that occur pre- and post-career counseling. This five-stage model emphasizes cultural factors at each of the following stages of career counseling: (1) emergence of career and vocational problems; (2) help-seeking and career services utilization; (3) evaluation of career and vocational problems; (4) career interventions; and (5) outcomes of career interventions.

Stages 1 and 2 address the pre-intervention phases. During the first stage, emergence of career and vocational problems, career counselors are encouraged to understand the context—the home, family, work, school—in which the career-related concerns first emerged. Leong and Hartung highlight that cultural values and expectancies influence how potential career clients will perceive and define their career experiences and will determine the extent to which the client conceives these experiences to be problematic. Cultural factors relevant at this stage that career counselors will evaluate include role salience (importance of work to other life roles), cultural values (e.g., individualism/collectivism), and meaning of work. In addition to their influence on clients’ perceptions of career concerns, culture also plays a role in whether clients will seek professional help to deal with the career issues. At the second stage, help-seeking and career services utilization, career counselors should assess the presence of potential barriers, such as the absence of linguistic and cultural diversity of professional staff and career counselors that lack cultural competencies, that may prevent clients from culturally diverse backgrounds from utilizing career counseling services when they choose to do so. In addition, career counselors evaluate the reliance on support networks within the family and community and work to establish relationships with key figures in the community who can serve as referral sources. In conjunction with the services being offered to culturally diverse clients, the career counselor also utilizes the support networks within the client’s community to assist with her/his career concerns.

The third and fourth stages of Leong and Hartung’s (1997) model concentrate on the point at which clients seek professional services for their career concerns. The third stage, evaluation of career and vocational problems, entails an intake and assessment to understand the factors related to the presenting of career concerns. The intake interview and assessment process evaluate cultural factors that may help the career counselor and client to better understand how the career issues developed and to identify possible interventions for dealing effectively with the career problems. The assessment process includes both quantitative and qualitative approaches, and when using traditional career instruments, career counselors consider measurement issues (e.g., linguistic, scale, and normative equivalence) that can influence the validity of assessment data with culturally diverse clients. Career interventions, the fourth stage of the model, are informed by the assessment results and take into account the same cultural factors that emerged as salient to the client’s career development during the assessment process. During this stage, career counselors utilize their multicultural competencies to create a safe, comfortable environment for the client, to establish a good working alliance, and to identify culturally sensitive strategies for addressing the career problems.

The final stage, outcomes of career interventions, occurs when career counseling services have concluded. During this phase, the client returns to the community to implement the knowledge and skills that she/her learned through the career counseling process to address the career concerns.

Multicultural career assessment models

Flores, Spanierman and Obasi (2003) outlined a model of culturally appropriate career assessment that assumes that the career counselor has a strong foundation of skills in general counseling (e.g., developing a strong working relationship), multicultural counseling (e.g., awareness of attitudes/beliefs, knowledge, and skills), and career counseling (e.g., selecting and administering appropriate career assessment instruments, knowledge of the world of work). The components in the assessment model include four overlapping steps: (a) culturally encompassing information gathering; (b) culturally appropriate consideration of assessment instruments; (c) culturally sensitive administration of career assessment instruments; and (d) culturally appropriate interpretation of the data.

In the information gathering stage, a thorough intake interview needs to be conducted to obtain rich information about the possible influence of both individual and cultural factors on the career decision making of culturally diverse clients. When identifying assessment instruments to administer, Flores and colleagues suggest that career counselors utilize both formal (e.g., standardized instruments) and informal (e.g., family career genograms, timelines, career narrative) methods for gathering data about the client. Career counselors must consider measurement issues related to cross-cultural assessment, such as linguistic equivalence, conceptual equivalence, scale equivalence and normative equivalence, and might consider the necessity for developing culturally-specific career assessment instruments when questions arise about the cultural validity of current instruments. In the administration phase, career counselors need to effectively communicate the purposes of the assessment and understand the expectations that the client has of you and the assessment process. Establishing trust and creating an environment where the client is comfortable to raise questions and have input on whether the selected assessments will help her/him in making a career decision is an important component of this stage. Finally, during the stage where the career counselor interprets the assessment data to the culturally diverse client, the career counselor should integrate the data they have collected through interviews and assessments and present it in a tentative manner to allow the client to consider whether the data is an accurate reflection of her/himself. Together, the career counselor and client can utilize the assessment information to develop goals for counseling and to determine how they will work together to achieve those goals.

To assess the cultural factors relevant in career development, Leong, Hardin, and Gupta (2011) proposed the Cultural Formulation Approach (CFA), an adaptation of the cultural formulation plan from the Diagnostic and Statistical Model (DSM IV, 2000). These authors outlined five central components to a culturally-sensitive approach to conceptualizing career concerns that include: (a) cultural identity of the individual; (b) cultural explanation of the career problems; (c) cultural factors related to the psychosocial environment and levels of functioning (self in cultural context); (d) cultural dynamics in the relationship between the career counselor and the career client; and (e) overall cultural assessment for career counseling interventions and plan. A recent special issue in the Journal of Career Development (2010) includes a series of articles where the CFA is applied to career counseling and assessment with clients representing various cultural backgrounds.

In the first stage of the CFA for career counseling, career counselors assess key aspects of a client’s multiple identities that might influence her/his career concerns. An assessment of the client’s cultural identities (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender, social class, sexual orientation), acculturation, and life role salience will help the career counselor to understand how the client conceives of her/his career concerns. In the second stage, the career counselor obtains the client’s subjective understanding of the career issues she/he has encountered, how the concerns evolved, factors believed to have contributed to the career problems, and any possible solutions to resolving the concerns. In the third stage, the career counselor seeks to understand the client within the cultural context by assessing cultural values and environmental supports and barriers in the family, work setting, and community that may help or hinder resolution of the presenting career problems. Interpersonal factors that might inhibit the working relationship between the client and career counselor are principle components at the next stage. Career counselors are cognizant of their interpersonal interactions and communication styles, and seek ways to deepen the relationship and to enhance the client’s trust in the process. Finally, at the fifth stage, the data obtained in the previous stages is used to formulate an action plan that incorporates the interventions that address the cultural factors identified in the assessment process.

Common Factors Across the Multicultural Career Counseling and Assessment Models: Recommendations for Practice

A review of the multicultural career counseling and assessment models in the preceding section uncovers a set of factors that are common across the models. Common factors that are central to career counseling with culturally diverse clients include: (a) developing multicultural counseling competencies; (b) utilizing best practices in multicultural career assessment; (c) establishing a strong working relationship with the client; and (d) employing a wide range of culturally-specific career counseling interventions.

Ongoing development of multicultural counseling competencies

Returning to the Case of Jessica Chang (Chen and Leong, 1997), as we outlined earlier, culturally competent career counselors are actively engaged in the development and ongoing self-assessment attitudes/biases, knowledge and skills relevant to career counseling (Flores and Heppner, 2002). If we do not carefully reflect on the values that we hold and evaluate the values that are reinforced in our approaches in career counseling, we can unwittingly force our values onto our clients from diverse cultures. Moreover, culturally competent career counselors operate from a knowledge base that addresses culturally relevant variables in career development and utilizes counseling skills and strategies that complement the cultural backgrounds of their culturally diverse clients. In the following, we outline specific steps that career counselors can take to develop multicultural career counseling competencies.

In order to work effectively with clients like Jessica Chang, counselors need to develop multicultural awareness of attitudes/biases related to career counseling by:

  • exploring how their career development has been shaped by sociocultural background, with specific attention to the role of race/ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, social class, ability, and nationality in their career decisions and experiences;
  • examinining assumptions they hold about career development and the decision-making process;
  • reflecting on their definition of career;
  • critically assessing the values and assumptions of the career theories and career interventions that they utilize in career counseling.

To develop multicultural knowledge related to career counseling, career counselors can:

  • understand that each client lives in a unique cultural context and will/may possess a unique set of values that will guide her/his career development;
  • develop awareness of how discrimination and oppression affects the worldview, perceptions of the world of work, and psychological health of culturally diverse clients (Flores and Heppner, 2002);
  • understand important national, state, and local legislation that impacts members of marginalized groups as well as the sociohistorical forces that have shaped the career development of culturally diverse groups in the U.S.;
  • understand how culture affects a client’s definition of career and work interactions.

To develop multicultural skills related to career counseling, career counselors can:

  • clarify the process of career counseling and purposes of assessment;
  • conduct a thorough assessment of their client, including worldview, racial/ethnic identity, acculturation, parents’ educational and occupational backgrounds and family expectations;
  • conceptualize the client’s career concerns within the client’s cultural context;
  • understand issues related to traditional career assessment and how these instruments may be biased when used with culturally diverse clients;
  • conduct intake interviews and administer qualitative assessments that focus on the role of culture in career;
  • remain updated on the latest vocational psychology literature and empirical findings pertaining to the career development and career decision making of culturally diverse groups;
  • conduct research on the career development of culturally diverse samples;
  • explore the influence of contextual and environmental factors on an individual’s career decision making;
  • create outreach programs to make career services more accessible to culturally diverse groups who may not seek services.

Utilize best practices in multicultural career assessment

Culturally competent career counselors take into consideration the client’s cultural context when conceptualizing the client’s presenting career concerns, acquiring career assessment data, and developing a plan for career counseling. This involves an assessment of both individual and cultural variables that might be relevant in the client’s career development. Examples of traditional individual factors include career-related interests, values, self-efficacy, personality, and goals. Multicultural career counseling consists of assessment that extends beyond these traditional individual variables to include culturally relevant variables. Prior research has demonstrated the link between ethnic identity (Duffy and Klingaman, 2009), acculturation (Miller and Kerlow-Myers, 2009), perceived educational and career barriers (McWhirter, Torres, Salgado, and Valdez, 2007) and the career development of culturally diverse groups. Thus, in addition to assessing individual variables, culturally competent career counselors also evaluate the role of cultural variables such as racial/ethnic identity, gender identity, acculturation, perceived personal and environmental barriers, cultural values, familial expectations and support in the career development of their clients from marginalized groups.

Establish a strong working alliance in career counseling

Establishing rapport early in the career counseling process can help the client feel connected to the career counselor and to experience safety and trust in seeking help for her/his career concerns. Culturally diverse clients will look at both the actions (and inactions) of the career counselor to gauge her/his multicultural sensitivity. In addition, the career counselor’s office space (décor, reading materials) and the diversity or lack of diversity of office staff may also communicate to potential clients the level at which the career counselor has considered the needs of diverse clients (Flores and Heppner, 2002).

Develop a repertoire of culturally-specific career counseling interventions

The final common factor across the multicultural career counseling and assessment models that we reviewed earlier is the knowledge and use of a variety of career counseling intervention strategies to be considered based on the fit to the client’s cultural background. Prior authors have developed assessment tools that address the role of culture in career development (i.e., Ward and Bingham’s [1993] Career Checklist, and Ponterotto, Rivera and Sueyoshi’s [2000] Career-in-Culture Interview) and provided recommendations for career counseling interventions with culturally diverse clients (e.g., Bowman, 1993; Flores, Hseih, and Chiao, 2011). In essence, career counselors should design or adapt interventions that are tailored to meet the client’s career needs and which incorporate cultural factors related to the client’s career concerns. The interventions should reflect the cultural norms, practices, and values of the clients with whom they work.

Future Research and Theory Development

Our current review of both cultural validity and cultural specificity career models leaves us with an optimistic view of the future of cross-cultural career counseling. It has become widely accepted that career counseling needs to take place within a cultural context in order to be effective and beneficial for the increasingly cultural diverse population in our country. This is a factor that needs to be incorporated into our models regardless of whether clients are from ethnic minority populations or are immigrants from other countries or international students attending our universities.

This and other reviews of the multicultural career literature has taught us that our theories and models, like our clients, are dynamic and evolving rather than static entities. Although the dominant Western career models/theories are being adapted, modified, developed or extended, there is still much that needs to be done in order to fill all the cultural accommodation gaps (see Leong and Lee, 2006). Fifteen years after Leong and Brown (1995), we continue to believe that culturally valid and culturally specific research in the field of career counseling needs to be undertaken and extended. In one sense, the field has only just begun to lay the groundwork for multicultural career counseling. Some specific approaches that have arisen and continue to be developed include those of a cultural contextual nature, of a personal constructivism nature, and or a narrative nature. These are good and promising beginnings.

Our review also identified the need for more careful use of concepts with appropriate definitions in terms of monocultural, bicultural or multicultural studies that underlie our models or our intervention programs. Similarly, as we implement the cross-cultural competence perspective into the training of future generations of career counselors, we need to be careful in referring to cross-cultural competence vs. multicultural competence.

Thomas Kuhn’s (1996) concept of the structure of scientific revolution is also relevant to our current discussions. According to Kuhn, scientific paradigms shift when sufficient phenomena at the fringes accumulated beyond the capacity of the dominant paradigm to assimilate or account for them. We do not believe that the field of vocational psychology is witnessing a paradigm shift but perhaps they do adapt to changes. As our society becomes more multicultural and we encounter the effects of globalization, Western/Eurocentric theories and models of career development and career intervention may need to undergo cultural adaptation much in the same way that their counterparts in psychotherapy have had to adapt. For the interested reader, Bernal and Domenech-Rodriguez (2012) provide an excellent overview and discussion of cultural adaptation in psychological intervention. Therefore, the convergence of the cultural validity and cultural specificity approaches may be best integrated within the field of vocational psychology by undertaking such cultural adaptation of our current Western/Eurocentric models of career development and vocational behaviors

In reviewing the extant models of multicultural career counseling, we are also reminded of Spokane’s observation that we have theories of career development but lack theories of career counseling. Yet, our review has identified some promising models of multicultural career counseling, though empirical studies of these models are sorely needed in relation to their efficacy and effectiveness. Many of the methodological developments in psychotherapy process and outcome studies can be fruitfully applied to these multicultural career counseling studies to be undertaken. Following Leong and Lee’s (2006) Cultural Accommodation Model, these theories of career counseling can also identify culture-specific constructs that they need to accommodate within their paradigms in order to be relevant to a culturally diverse clientele. To put the theory and the practice together, we also need more translational research which helps us with the critical step of “theory into practice.”


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