Such principles are echoed in the area of vocational testing. For example, the Strong Interest Inventory Manual acknowledges the need for counsellors to be aware that "a female client's career goals, expectations, and perhaps some of her Strong scores may reflect occupational stereotypes based on gender roles."Practitioners suggest that, when providing career counselling to women, additional assessment tools be used to enhance women's self-understanding and career exploration.8

Alternatively, there is evidence to suggest that gender socialization is influential only in early career decisions and that, after initial work experience, women move in and out of "male" occupations throughout their working lives.9 A study exploring white-collar work values and women's interest in blue-collar jobs indicated that female office staff, after having an opportunity to work in blue-collar jobs, were open to working in these areas for practical and economic reasons. 10

Those most interested in transferring to blue-collar jobs were low-income mothers with dependent children, women holding lower rank clerical jobs, and women who had experience in stereotypically male pursuits as children. A woman's material position and practical concerns, then, most shape her interest in pursuing higher paying work, rather than a preference for white-collar values.

And some research proposes that employment and career trends for women may be changing because of the increasing number of women who choose careers that traditionally employ more men than women as well as the tendency for college women to select careers that reflect their interests rather than female stereotypes.11 High levels of self-esteem have been found to assist women in making such independent career choices and in persevering when "barriers to achievement are encountered."12

Testing Disadvantaged Groups

But what of women who have not had the opportunity to enter college or even be informed of options beyond the traditional? What about women whose life situations have not nurtured the self esteem necessary to persevere when barriers are encountered? Women identified as socio-economically disadvantaged often have limited financial resources and face a multitude of employment barriers including lack of formal education, poor work histories, low self- confidence and self-esteem, limited social influence, health problems, family difficulties and unstable home environments.13 Women who attend community-based programs, primarily serving social assistance recipients, are often faced with more than one of these challenges.

Are assessment tests valid for immigrant and refugee women?

A certain number of women relying on some form of social assistance are immigrants and/or refugees who face language and culture barriers and who lack Canadian work experience. Given that tests often reflect values of white middle-class society, can they be valid for immigrant and refugee women?14 What is the impact of language, comprehension, and test content on test-taking behaviour?15 What is the influence of family members on decision-making? What is the effect of discrimination on decision- making as well as the presence of culturally stereotypic interests that mayor may not reflect actual interests?16

The Assessment Program
Our centre at the YWCA of Metropolitan Toronto provides a two-week vocational assessment program to women who receive general welfare, family benefits or UI benefits. An academic upgrading program and a computer training program are also offered at the same location. The assessment program encourages participants to engage in a process of self-assessment and work career exploration through vocational interest and ability testing, personality inventories, basic math and English testing, keyboard evaluation and counsellor assessments.

Life Skills and Vocational Life Skills sessions are also important in enhancing career exploration, identifying barriers, and increasing confidence and motivation. The culmination of the program is the creation of an action plan, by participant and staff, that reflects the participant's needs in the short and long term.

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