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Women's career experiences in Ag-Education.


This study described women's career experiences in agricultural education using Social Cognitive Career Theory. The SCCT adequately explained the women's decision to become agricultural education teachers but lacked refinement for explaining women's experiences with career entry in nontraditional teaching roles, especially when encountering gender bias. More research is needed to understand women's career entry experiences in nontraditional careers as this phase is poorly understood and underreported.


In spite of a century of women's activism for equality in the workplace, they remain the target of discrimination, especially in nontraditional careers such as secondary agricultural education (AgEd). In the state where this study was conducted women constituted only three percent of the AgEd teachers.

Variables for explaining why women are underrepresented in agricultural education are poorly understood (Myers & Dyer, 2004); however, the broader literature demonstrates that two variables, discrimination during the selection process and physical attractiveness effectively bar women from entry and advancement in nontraditional careers (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1983; Glass Ceiling Commission, 1994; Wirth, 2001). Formal sex discrimination (policy aimed at disallowing women or men in specific jobs because of sex) was outlawed in 1964 by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; however, informal discrimination (differential treatment of women not related to job performance) persists. For example, given exact resumes of two qualified individuals, an employer will select a male for "masculine-typed positions" and a female for "feminine-typed positions" (Fitzgerald & Betz, 1983, p. 123). The Glass Ceiling Commission (1994, p. 5) reported that women's advancement in corporate America was stymied by "stereotypes and preconceptions about women; exclusion of women from information channels of communication; and counterproductive behavior of male coworkers."

Female AgEd teachers have experienced discrimination and gender bias on the job, a lack of acceptance by male AgEd teachers, and administrator disapproval (Foster, 2001; Knight, 1987; Cano, 1990). The majority of the literature in agricultural education surveyed women who had entered the profession. There are gaps in the literature surrounding the phenomenon of career entry for women in AgEd, especially those who desire to become AgEd teachers but who fail to gain employment (involuntary attrition). Therefore, there is a need for more research to explain women's experiences surrounding career choice and career entry into the AgEd teaching profession.

The purpose of the study was to describe career experiences of women AgEd teachers and college students majoring in AgEd to further understand why women chose a nontraditional career, if they were satisfied with their choices, if they were able to balance family with career, and the impact of role models on career choices.

The Social Cognitive Career Theory

The Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) was chosen to frame this study because it is more inclusive of women's experiences than other dominant career choice theories (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002). The theory posits that self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal goals drive career interests and are fueled by bidirectional interactions of these three variables. According to the level of success experienced, the person will develop high or low self-efficacy and outcome expectations, which in turn increases or decreases interest in a career activity. Through "repeated activity practice, modeling, and feedback from important others ... adolescents are able to develop their skills ... and form a sense of their capability at diverse tasks (self-efficacy), and beliefs about what will happen if they perform these tasks (outcome expectations)" (Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2002, p. 265). Conversely, adolescents will not develop interests in activities when their self-efficacy is low or when they receive neutral or negative feedback from valued others such as parents and teachers. As occupational interests stabilize by late adolescence, the importance of valued others' opinions and feedback toward career interests and skills cannot be overstated.

Lent, Brown, and Hackett (2002) were especially careful to include Bandura's "self-efficacy construct to women's career development" (p. 258) as most theories have not adequately explained women's experiences in career decision making. Gender is a social construction and determines how an individual sees the world, and how the world sees the individual. Gender "shapes the learning opportunities to which a particular individual is exposed, the interpersonal reactions (such as support or indifference) they receive for performing certain activities, and the outcomes they come to anticipate" (p. 269-270). Children are generally punished for adopting cross-gendered behaviors by peers and adults alike; thus, they develop low self-efficacy for nontraditional careers.


Qualitative case study methods were used to collect and analyze data for this study (Merriam, 1998). The case was bounded by gender, time, and location. The population included all female students who took at least one secondary teacher preparation course at a land-grant university from 1999 to 2004 (n=65). All female AgEd teachers in the state were also included in the study (n=13, N=78) to better understand career choice and entry for women in nontraditional occupations. To protect the identity of the subjects, these women are identified by their participant number in the text. The participants were solicited by letter and telephone and asked to participate in a long interview that was audiotaped, transcribed, and mailed back to them for verification. All interviews adhered to a semi-structured interview protocol. Participants were also engaged in probing questions that evolved during the interview process to explore emerging themes. The interview transcripts were cleaned and loaded into a qualitative data analysis software program (ATLIS/ti). The program allows researchers to organize and categorize the data, known as coding and memoing. The codes were then grouped together, distilled, and analyzed for patterns and themes. An overall portrait of participants' responses was constructed and used to draw conclusions and recommendations (Creswell, 1998).

Merriam (1998) recommended six strategies for enhancing validity in qualitative research. Participants' claims were triangulated with program planners' understanding of facts about the program's structure and format. Member checks were accomplished by mailing participants a copy of their interview transcripts for verification_ Draft copies of the report were shared with members of the AgEd community, including the participants of the study, for peer examination and feedback. The study was conceptualized with teacher educators, adding an element of collaborative research to enhance validity. Researcher's bias can never fully be removed; however, an awareness of personal biases was acknowledged and checked with peer reviewers. The researcher holds a social constructionist epistemology and acknowledges that her experience in the AgEd domain helped to conceptualize the study, including selection of interview questions and interpretation of the data. There was no attempt to generalize the results of the case study to this or other populations as nonrespondents were not compared to respondents.


Of the 78 women who were invited to participate in the study, 36 chose to do so (46% response rate). The participants' mean and median age was 25 years with a standard deviation of 6 years (range=34 years from 21 to 55). Thirty-four of the women were Caucasian, one was African American, and one was of Caucasian and Native American heritage. Thirteen of the women were married (36%) while 23 were single (64%). Five of the married women had children. Four women had at least one child under the age of two at home. Fifteen women (41%) were current students. Twelve had not completed student teaching (participants 1, 6, 11, 14, 19, 31, 36, 37, 49, 52, 63, 67) while three had (participants 9, 54, 66). Twenty-one women had graduated. Six were not teaching (participants 8, 23, 28, 51, 57, 60), three were teaching but not AgEd (participants 2, 15, 29), nine were teaching AgEd (participants 3, 13, 26, 43, 56, 71, 74, 77, 78), and three were teaching agriculturally related courses at the college level (participants i 7, 20, 59).

Motivation for Choosing AgEd. Thirty women discussed why they wanted to become AgEd teachers. The majority of the women indicated that they were inspired and supported by their high school AgEd teachers and expressed a love of teaching and a desire to pass on their positive experiences in the AgEd context to the next generation (participants i, 2, 3, 6, 8, 9, 11, 13, 14, 17, 20, 23, 26, 28, 36, 37, 49, 51, 52, 54, 56, 57, 63, 66, 67). Interestingly, five women said they were motivated to become AgEd teachers because of the poor quality experience they had as high school students. Because of their love of AgEd, they did not want the next generation to come to understand it as their AgEd teachers had presented it to them (participants 9, 19, 31, 43, 56).

Teaching AgEd is a Satisfying Career for Women. Eight teachers were asked if they were satisfied with their career (participants 3, 17, 26, 56, 71, 74, 77, 78). Six were very satisfied and two were satisfied with their career choice. Teaching AgEd allowed the women to make a difference in other's lives and was a rewarding career. Detractors included too much time on the job (participant 71) and lack of support for the AgEd program from the school board (participant 3).

Women AgEd Teachers in Leadership Positions. Two women reported that they held leadership positions within the AgEd profession (participants 77, 78). They reported that they were treated well by peers and supported in their leadership roles. Number 77 said that being an officer in her Professional Improvement group and at the state level has benefited her professionally and personally. She feels she is accepted in the profession, in part, because of her service and committee work. Her leadership role has allowed her to increase networking opportunities.

Women's Inability to Become Full Participants in AgEd. Four AgEd teachers (participants 17, 43, 71, 77) spoke about not being able to fully engage in the profession in this state because being "buddy-buddy" with men might lead others to question the relationship as being other than professional (participant 17); thus, hindering opportunities for professional advancement.

The Role of Children in Women's AgEd Careers. Four women spoke about the role of children in their careers. The women who had children were able to negotiate career and family needs and retained their positions as AgEd teachers (participants 56, 71, 77, 78). Several women who did not have children expressed concern over maintaining their career while raising a family (participant 3, 26, 60, 74). Number 71 became a mother after several years as an AgEd teacher. She said something had to give and she had to become a better time manager. "I could spend hours and hours at the AgEd building doing whatever needed to be done. Now one of two things had to happen. Either the baby had to be here or everything had to be done by 4:00 PM when I pick him up from the babysitter ... No female coming into the field should be naive in thinking that it is not difficult" to have a career and a family.

Women's Experiences with Role Models. Sixteen women discussed their experiences with role models in the AgEd context (participants 2, 3, 9, 11, 14, 17, 19, 28, 31, 36, 43, 49, 52, 54, 67, 74). Three women reported that they had only known male role models and that the majority of their experiences had been positive, hence the continuance of their education and career choice for AgEd. They did not long for female role models (participants 11, 49, 74). Five women did not have female role models but acknowledged that having a female role model might have been helpful in showing them the way in a male-dominated profession (participants 17, 28, 52, 54, 67). Eight women had female role models and were enriched by the experience by gaining confidence in their ability to perform as an AgEd teacher themselves (participants 2, 3, 9, 14, 19, 31, 36, 43).

Must Women Adopt Male Ways of Knowing in Agricultural Education? Although not a specific question in the interview protocol, a theme that emerged from the data was the notion that women who succeed in the AgEd context must assume "the traditional male" role (Etzkowitz, 1994, p. 52) or become "one of the boys" or deny that women have unique needs in nontraditional occupations. Number 54, a current student who had completed student teaching said she had a difficult time getting advice from female AgEd teachers. She said
 the female role models, they have been working with the men for so
 long that their coping mechanisms are ingrained. They can't even
 tell me what they are doing differently anymore. I go to these
 women and they don't give me any advice [on how to navigate a
 career in a male-dominated landscape]. We are not just one of the

Number 3, an experienced AgEd teacher, reported that women cannot be "a grippey [one who complains] female because you won't earn any respect [from male peers]." She said "I think you do have to be very careful as a female AgEd teacher and over the years I have felt myself doing this. It is much easier to let things roll off my shoulder because you can't be over-sensitive and some of the things that women sometimes tend to do, men don't understand that. In the profession you have to be a little bit tougher. You have to let things roll off your sleeve; you can't take things to heart. You have to almost put yourself in their shoes to deal with the situation. I think that helps to earn their respect." Number 74 said "I am pretty much just one of them. They pretty much just treat me as one of the guys. I wouldn't want to be treated any different. They joke around and are professional."

Summary and Conclusions

The women who participated in this study were generally young (age 25), Caucasian, single, and childless. Forty-one percent were current students and 59% had graduated. Of the graduates, 43% were teaching AgEd. The women wanted to become AgEd teachers because of their love of teaching and because their high school AgEd teachers inspired them. For those women who were teaching AgEd, they found it to be a very satisfying career choice as they were able to make a positive impact on students' lives. Two women AgEd teachers served in leadership positions in the profession. However, four women reported they were unable to fully integrate into the profession because of gender bias. In a companion study using the same data set 63% of these women experienced gender bias at some point in their AgEd careers (Kelsey, 2006). Having children was not a barrier to success as an AgEd teacher. The four women who had children were able to negotiate career and family needs and remained in the profession. Four childless women were apprehensive about their ability to balance career and family when they did decide to have children.

Sixteen women discussed their experiences with role models, both male and female. Eight women did not have a female role model. Three of the eight women did not long for female role models, but five women of the eight pointed out possible advantages to having female role models such as getting advice on career-related issues, networking, and companionship. Eight women did have female role models and were enriched by the experience. A few women, both teachers and college students, noted that networking and comradery among the female AgEd teachers was wanting, in part, because it's a large state and the few women in the field are geographically distant and, in part, because the women themselves have not organized a cohesive identity. There was not an overwhelming call for more support mechanisms for women, but less experienced women had questions about job-related issues that were specific to gender such as dress, chaperons for home visits and field trips, and networking and professional advancement in a male-dominated profession. Several women said their needs were not met by the all-male preservice faculty in regard to addressing gender-specific concerns.

One student and two teachers noted that women may develop coping mechanisms, such as becoming one of the boys, to succeed in a male-dominated career. The result is that women become sympathetic to men's ways of knowing but do not expect men to reciprocate.

Discussion and Directions for Future Research

The Social Cognitive Career Theory sufficiently explained participants' nontraditional career choice in most cases. Self-efficacy for teaching AgEd was reinforced by the women's role models, especially their high school AgEd teachers and family members.

The women had high outcome expectations regarding their ability to integrate their love of teaching with a desire to pass agriculture onto the next generation. They were reinforced by repeated success in these activities and received positive feedback from valued others (AgEd teachers and family). The participants' personal goals were consistent with teaching AgEd as the profession allows practitioners to infuse a variety of passions (agriculture, FFA, animals) into teaching. The gender of the role models was not a consideration for these women as they were supported and encouraged for their career choice by both male and female AgEd teachers.

However, the SCCT model did not explain why five women chose a career in which their role model was a negative influence or failed to inspire them professionally. Perhaps the women's combined self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and personal goals were strong enough (high elasticity) to override negative role modeling from valued others at the time of their career choice. Future research should examine the elasticity of each variable for explaining career choice when the variables are not positively related and when women experience gender bias.

The SCCT model focused solely on career choice and did not go beyond to explain career entry. This study confirmed the literature on why women chose AgEd, but the issue of career entry for women remains problematic. This study touched on discrimination during the selection process and hinted that physical attractiveness or expression of femininity may be barriers to entry for women in AgEd as was reported by Fitzgerald and Betz (1983). However, there was insufficient data to illuminate women's experience as they attempted to enter the profession. Future research should target women's career entry experiences in search of barriers that would explain the lack of women in AgEd. A longitudinal case study would be helpful to better understand women's experiences from the preservice teacher preparation program to career entry as this particular phase in women's lives is poorly understood.

Women in this state found great satisfaction from their careers and were happy with their choices. The women who were teaching AgEd were able to balance career and family needs and did not perceive they had to make a choice (either family or career) as Foster's (2001) participants did. However, the women who did not have children expressed concerns about maintaining their career while raising a family. Preservice women may benefit from a mentoring program where they are able to observe women AgEd teachers as they negotiate career and family needs. A mentoring program is also advisable in general for women in nontraditional careers as they are "especially vulnerable to isolation and burnout" (Glass Ceiling Commission, 1994, p. 12).

Women's inability to fully engage in a nontraditional career is a common problem. Women have a lack of suitable role models, mentors, and empathy from men regarding their minority status and need to balance work and family (Glass Ceiling Commission, 1994). Both men and women report "sexual tensions, confusion, and anxieties about personal intimacy" in the mentor-mentee relationship, making it difficult for women to network and advance in nontraditional careers (Harvard Business Essentials, 2004, p. 115). Four women in this study described this situation. Both men and women need coaching in the preservice teacher preparation program on how to establish professional relationships with opposite sex peers to reduce prejudice and close the gender gap.

Number 3 unearthed an important theme for women in male-dominated careers. She believed that women in AgEd must be empathetic to men's needs by being tough, analytical, not overly-sensitive or emotional, and not "grippey" or one who complains. According to Fitzgerald and Betz (1983) women in nontraditional career would have an advantage if they were not overly feminine and were more sympathetic to male ways of knowing and being. Etzkowitz et al. (1994, p. 52) also reported that women in science adopt "the traditional male" or "the relational female" role depending on generation. Older women scientists tended to align themselves behaviorally with men scientists by focusing solely on career achievement and research, often forgoing family and children in exchange for tenure. Although these strategies have allowed some women to break through the glass ceiling in male-dominated careers, they have left the majority of women behind.

Continuing to support the hegemony that one sex has a superior way of knowing and being will not serve society's vision of gender equity. Women in AgEd cannot become full participants in the profession by acquiescing to men's need for power and control (Freire, 1970). Women and men must "admit no power or privilege on the one side, nor disability on the other" (Mill, 1971, p. 1) and must come to understand and value each other's ways of knowing and being for the agricultural education teaching profession to thrive in a pluralistic society.


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Etzkowitz, H., Kemelgor, C., Neuschatz, M., Uzzi, B., & Alonzo, J. (1994). The paradox of critical mass for women in science. Science, 266(5182), 51-54.

Fitzgerald, L. F., & Betz, N. E. (1983). Issues in the vocational psychology of women. In W. B. Walsh & S. H. Osipow (Eds.), Handbook of vocational psychology (Vol. 1, pp. 83-160). Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

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Kelsey, K. D. (2006). Overcoming gender bias with self efficacy: A case study of women agricultural education teachers and preservice students. Proceedings of the AAAE Southern Region Conference, Orlando, FL. February 4-8, 2006.

Knight, J. (1987). Current status of women teachers of vocational agriculture in Ohio and their perception of their place in the profession. Paper presented at the Proceedings of the National Agricultural Education Research Meeting.

Lent, R. W., Brown, S. D., & Hackett, G. (2002). Social cognitive career theory. In D. Brown (Ed.), Career choice and development (4 ed., pp. 255-311). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

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Myers, B. E. & Dyer, J. (2004). Agriculture teacher education programs: A synthesis of the literature. Journal of Agricultural Education, 45(3), 44-52.

Wirth, L. (2001). Breaking through the glass ceiling: Women in management. Geneva: International Labor Office.

Kathleen D. Kelsey, Oklahoma State University, Stillwater

Kelsey, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of Agricultural Education, College of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources.
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Author:Kelsey, Kathleen D.
Publication:Academic Exchange Quarterly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2006
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