Occupational Commitment of Women in STEM Fields: The Impact of Coping Self-Efficacy and Mentoring

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The British University in Dubai (BUiD)
Continued under-representation of women employed in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields drastically reduces the available talent pool of technical skills. There have been many initiatives to enrol more females in STEM related courses and careers, however, the leaky pipeline continues to create problems for technical labour markets. Females constitute 42% of students pursuing STEM subjects pre-university in the USA, once at university only 33% of STEM undergraduates are women, and after graduation less than 20% are employed in STEM related jobs (UKRCWSET, 2009, Munoz-Boudet 2017, Stofan 2017). Other studies report similarly low representation of women in Europe, Australasia, Canada, and the Middle East (Hill et al., 2010; Buse, 2011; Mills, 2011; Hunt, 2010). The literature still falls short on identifying and explaining the factors that could contribute to females’ persistence and commitment in STEM fields. The aim of this thesis is to investigate the factors that might affect persistence and occupational commitment (OC) in these fields. The study aims to shed light on the dynamic approaches adopted by females in STEM fields to overcome occupational career challenges. The main questions that this thesis investigates are: How do females succeed in committing to their STEM occupations? How does mentoring impact OC? How does mentoring impact coping self-efficacy (CSE)? And how does CSE influence OC? The theoretical framework for the research is the career self-management model; an updated model of the Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT) (Lent & Brown 2013). The study also draws on Bandura’s (2006) self-efficacy theory and Krams (1985) two-dimensional functions of mentoring. OC is investigated through the lens informed by Meyer, Allen and Smith’s (1993) three-dimensional model. This study contributes to the literature on women in STEM by providing an overview of female participation and occupational commitment worldwide and in the MENA region. It includes a detailed section on the challenges and barriers that Arab women face in STEM industries. The methodology used in the study is a partially mixed sequential dominant status design where the qualitative design is considered the core component. Semi-structured interviews were used for the first phase of data collection followed by an online survey questionnaire in the second phase. The qualitative data were analysed in Nvivo12 software applying the Gioia methodology and the results revealed four aggregate dimensions. The quantitative data were analysed using Stata and the results supported the following hypotheses: coping self-efficacy has a positive effect on occupational commitment, goal setting mediates the relationship between the two, and mentoring has a positive effect on occupational commitment Since the core component research design for this study is qualitative research, it is important to note that as a multiple case study design, this research investigated a specific number of women in STEM occupations and is not representative of the total population (Yin 2009). Findings relating to career development and advancement of females in STEM, as well as findings about contextual factors and their impact on other variables in this research, are nested in a cross-sectional design. Thus, a longitudinal study of the career stages of females who work in STEM might provide further insight on the impact of the mentoring functions. The study did not attempt to distinguish between formal or informal mentoring. Future studies might contribute to the SCCT investigating specific forms of mentoring. In seeking to understand the important ramifications of coping self-efficacy on participants’ careers, the study examined in depth the sources of participants’ self-efficacy that were considered when assessing their capabilities. The results of this research also extend SCCT by highlighting the significant role that protean attitudes play in enhancing career outcomes. The study’s findings support previous research on the importance of mentoring as a contextual support for career outcomes. Context specificity accentuates the need to adopt a more integrated stance regarding research on role models and professional identity. It also could lead to more efficacious knowledge and understanding about the reasons behind the leaky pipeline in STEM industries and occupations. The study calls for career advancement intervention strategies aimed at enhancing females’ efficacy beliefs about their interests, values and talents. Females who work in STEM should be mindful of protean attitudes that will give them autonomy and enable them to continuously assess and improve their skills and knowledge in such fast moving and demanding domains. Organizations are advised also to recognize the growth needs of female minorities in STEM by encouraging a culture of role modelling and exposure to inspiring figures, co-workers, and senior management. In order to recruit and maintain females, organizations are recommended to incorporate mentoring programmes that build on advancing learning and growth opportunities for females. Women joining and committing to their occupations in STEM fields still severely lag behind and the persisting leaky pipeline continues to be a major issue in this respect. Scholars indicate that some of the main reasons why females are not committing to their occupations in STEM industries is due to lack of confidence and support rather than lack of talent or academic aptitude (Sonner & Holton 1995, Dawson et al., 2015). In the light of these issues, this research contributes to knowledge on the role of some identified internal drivers (coping self-efficacy, protean attitude, professional identity, and personal learning development) and contextual support (mentoring and the quality of the mentoring relation) on females’ occupational commitment in STEM fields. The framework presented in this thesis can be improved and expanded upon to examine other aspects of career development that may have valuable impacts on reducing the under-representation of females in STEM.
organizational behavior, Genderg, women in STEM, mentoring, self-efficacy, occupational commitment