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Career and Life Planning

Review by Julie L. Anderson

Career and Life Planning with Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons by Susan Gelberg and Joseph T. Chojnacki, American Counseling Association, 1996, 199 pages, $21.95
salesman.jpg - 15.02 K Most literature about career development and counseling does not adequately address the impact that sexual orientation has on career and life planning. Career and Life Planning With Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons is one of the first books that integrates theoretical and practical information from the career development/counseling and life planning fields into gay, lesbian, and bisexual studies.

Written with the helping professional in mind, Career and Life Planning With Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons identifies and examines the career and life planning issues that are particularly salient in the lives of gay, lesbian, and bisexual people. These issues may include lack of legal job protection, lack of advancement opportunities, inability to file joint income tax returns, physical or verbal harassment on and off the job, social activities at work designed with the assumption that employees are heterosexual, special job search needs based on how out the person is in the workplace, and denial of health insurance for a partner. Gelberg and Chojnacki address these issues using a developmental framework. Their perspective encourages gay, lesbian, and bisexual people to consider their past, current, and future career and psychological needs when deciding about their career and life plans.

Their model of career counseling with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people is grounded in the person-environment fit (P-E) approach which focusses on the qualities of the person (e.g., interests, values, experience, stage in the coming out process, and skills), the work environment (e.g., eligibility requirements, work opportunities, interpersonal climate of the workplace), and the interactions between the people and their environments.

This approach suggests that people should choose work environments that offer the possibility of actualizing their needs, interests, values, and skills. P-E theory predicts that a good match between a person and their work environment will probably lead to worker satisfaction and high productivity. Heterosexism and homophobia in the workplace (environment) creates incongruence and stress within and between the person and environment.

Helpers can use traditional interviews and assessment instruments (i.e. Strong Interest Inventory) to evaluate many of the interests, values, skills, and needs of their gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients. Other "person" issues like things to consider when making decisions about how much to come out in the resume and during interviews are also addressed.

Assessing work environments through traditional means (i.e. Dictionary of Occupational Titles) can help one to understand specific job tasks, career options, requisite training, and job opportunities. However, Gelberg and Chojnacki point out that these resources do not assess workplace heterosexism.

They suggest using two books to assess the level of homophobia and heterosexism in the workplace environment, Cracking the Corporate Closet (Baker et al., 1995) and The 100 Best Companies for Gay Men and Lesbians (Mickens, 1994). These books address whether or not organizations are gay, lesbian, and bisexual-affirmative in terms of antidiscrimination policies, domestic partner benefits, existence of gay, lesbian, and bisexual employee groups, and diversity training.

Gelberg and Chojnacki also suggest networking and informational interviewing with members of gay, lesbian, and bisexual professional organizations to find out how companies respond to gay, lesbian, and bisexual issues. They point out that an added benefit to informational interviewing is the ability to learn about subtle workplace intolerances (i.e. whether or not homophobic jokes are made and tolerated at the workplace).

Gelberg and Chojnacki suggest that gay, lesbian, and bisexual-affirmative counseling is necessary to help their gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients deal with conflicts arising from the homophobic work environment and/or to help them choose work environments that are gay, lesbian, and bisexual friendly.

It is in listing assumptions that characterize gay, lesbian, and bisexual-affirmative counseling where Gelberg and Chojnacki make their first misstep. They state, "G/l/b/ persons who attend counseling without a desire to change their sexual orientation should not be forced into change" (p. 17).

This statement connotes that Gelberg and Chojnacki would suggest that on the other hand, gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who attend counseling with a desire to change their sexual orientation should be helped to change. There is an ongoing debate among some prominent American Psychological Association members about the ethics of offering conversion therapy when homosexuality is not a pathological condition.

Previous Reviews from the GayToday Archive:
Exploring the Plight of Gay Youth

Review: In the Flesh: Undressing for Success

Review:Take the Young Man By the Hand: Same-Sex Relations and the YMCA

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University of Southern California's One Institute
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In the case of this particular assumption about gay, lesbian, and bisexual-affirmative counseling, Belberg and Chojnacki might consider leaving it out of subsequent editions of the book. Better yet, it could be replaced with "Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who attend counseling with a desire to change their sexual orientation would best be served by exploring their internalized homophobia and how heterosexism has affected their self-esteem so they can move toward self-acceptance".

Appendix 1 is a sample intake form that can be used with gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are entering career counseling. Overall, this form integrates the client's sexual orientation into all areas of inquiry except in the "Career History" section which does not ask the client for their level of disclosure about their sexual orientation at each job.

In the "Demographics" section there is a heading for "marital status". Due to the inability for gay and lesbian people to legally marry, this heading seems inappropriate for such clients. A more suitable heading might be "relationship status" or "relationship history". Although Career and Life Planning With Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons has traces of heterosexism, it is a practical guide for helping professionals to assist their gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients or students in maximizing their chances of making career and life decisions that will lead to happy, productive, and successful lives.

This is also a book for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people who are just entering the job market or others who are unhappy in their current positions or fields. The gay, lesbian, and bisexual reader will probably find Chapter 5 (Assessing the Work Environment), Chapter 6 (Career Decision Making and Goal Setting), Chapter 7 (The Job Search), Appendix 2 (Sample Career Counseling Handout), and Appendix 3 (Career Counseling Resources) especially helpful. The gay, lesbian, and bisexual lay reader might find the remaining chapters and appendices to be too theoretical for their career and life planning needs.

It is all too common for graduate courses in career development/counseling to ignore the special needs of clients related to their gender, age, physical abilities, race, religion, and especially their sexual orientation. Career and Life Planning With Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons should be a required text for all career development/counseling courses.In addition, it is too common for helping professionals to work with their gay, lesbian, and bisexual clients in career exploration without discussing the client's sexual orientation as it relates to job environments and personal needs (i.e. being out in the workplace).

Career and Life Planning With Gay, Lesbian, & Bisexual Persons should be used by academic advisers, guidance counselors, psychologists, therapists, social workers, job coaches, educational administrators, and career counselors to assist and guide them in taking their client or student from his or her developmental stage of coming out and integrating that into his or her career and life planning work.
Julie L. Anderson is a graduate student in the counseling psychology doctoral program at the University of Southern California. Her specialty is gender studies, with an emphasis on changing attitudes toward gays, lesbians, and women in America. She is currently the Associate Development Director at G.L.A.A.D. (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) and worked for 6 years at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center in program management and development.

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