Women's and men's achievement striving in an academic environment : a qualitative study

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Nichols, Cassandra N.
Kiselica, Mark S.
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Thesis (Ph. D.)
Department of Counseling Psychology and Guidance Services
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This study explored the way women and men achieved and competed in an academic environment. Because of a lack in the literature of a conceptual framework from which to guide an investigation of achievement in the academic domain, an additional purpose of this study was to develop a grounded or data-derived theory of women's and men's achievement striving based upon their self-reported experiences. Results of this study demonstrated that both women and men achieve and that women and men appeared more similar than different in their achievement endeavors. Additionally, the results demonstrated a remarkable degree of variability among participants, suggesting that the desire to achieve is a highly individualistic phenomenon in which gender is only one possible variable that affects how individuals compete and cooperate. Closely associated with this high degree of variability was the observation that participants' perceptions, evaluations, and beliefs about achievement were often associated with situational variables. These situational variables (e.g., different contexts, importance of particular goals, relationship factors, type of preferred competition) had a mediating effect on whether or not participants competed or how they chose to compete. The results suggested that some women and men differed from one another in how they chose to compete according to various situational variables. These three interactive data-generated, theoretical elements (i.e., both women and men compete, achievement involved a high degree of variability, achievement was mediated by situational variables) combined to form a grounded theory known as the Expectancy Theory of Women's and Men's Achievement Striving. This theory suggests that women and men have a great deal in common with one another when striving to achieve, but that there may be some gender differences based upon the expectations about the process of achieving in the world of work. Some of these expectations in which women and men appeared to differ includedwomen's notion that other women were more difficult to compete with than were men. Also, men discussed the expectation that the world was a competitive place and was only going to get more competitive. Finally, both women and men expected that they world achieve the goal of having careers and families in the future, but men expected that they would achieve these goal shortly after they graduated while women expected that they would have to choose between which of these two goal they wanted first (family or career).