WORK IDENTITY, EXPECTATIONS, AND JOB SUCCESS
FOR PEOPLE TRANSITIONING FROM WELFARE TO WORK
Marsha Elaine Mattingly
B.A., University of Colorado, 1985
A thesis submitted to the
University of Colorado at Denver
in partial fulfillment
of the requirements for the degree of
Master of Social Science
2004 Marsha Elaine Mattingly
All rights reserved
This thesis for the Master of Social Science
Marsha Elaine Mattingly
has been approved
Mattingly, Marsha Elaine (Master, Social Science)
Work Identity, Expectations and Job Success for People Transitioning from Welfare
Thesis directed by Professor Brenda J. Allen
This research study is a qualitative exploration of the experiences of
individuals making the transition from public assistance to working, as mandated by
the 1996 welfare reform legislation. The goal of this study is to provide the
opportunity for individuals who are making the transition from welfare to work to
share their thoughts and experiences. What are their attitudes about work and how
did they develop those attitudes? How do they balance their social, family and work
identities? What factors have either contributed to or hindered their efforts to obtain
and maintain employment?
In spring semester 2002, Brenda Allen, PhD and Associate Professor in the
Communications Department at the University of Colorado at Denver conducted
taped interviews about attitudes toward work with eight students a Community
College of Denver program for individuals transitioning from welfare-to-work. As
part of my study, I conducted narrative analysis on these taped interviews.
Additionally, I conducted two small focus groups. All of the participants were
single mothers who were receiving or had previously received public assistance.
Analysis and interpretation of the taped interviews and focus groups examine the
opinions and experiences of these women about making the transition into the
Participants input reveal much about themselves, the difficulties they have
experienced entering and maintaining employment, the challenges of being a single
working mother, and their ideas about steps employers and other institutions could
take to better facilitate their working and supporting their families.
This abstract accurately represents the content of the candidates thesis. I recommend
I dedicate this thesis to my friend, Jeff Schweinfest, who introduced me to the
Master of Social Science program and has been my mentor, supporter, and devil
advocate throughout the masters degree and thesis process.
My thanks to the many family members, friends, and co-workers who encouraged
me as I researched and wrote this thesis. I also wish to thank to my thesis chair,
Brenda J. Allen, and my other thesis committee members, Jan Buhrman and Michael
Cummings for their support and feedback. I especially want to thank Ed Gabouri,
Maryann Touitou, and Diane Porter for their moral support and ideas. Most of all I
am grateful to the Workplace Learning Project students who volunteered to share
their thoughts and experiences.
Changes to Welfare Policies and Programs...............2
Challenges for WelfaTe-to-Work Participants............4
Developing Work Attitudes and Work Identities..........7
2. ROLE OF THEORY............................................11
3. RE VIEW OF LITERATURE.....................................14
Factors in the Development of Identity............20
School-to-Work Programs......................... 26
Factors in the Development of Work Identity.......28
Work Attitudes of Welfare-to-Work Transitioners........28
Transitioners Development of Work Attitudes......31
Existing Studies of Welfare-to-Work Transitioners......32
External Challenges to Welfare-to-Work Transitioners...35
Analysis of Data.......................................51
Part One: Early Impressions of Work...............53
Part Two: Work and Career.........................59
Part Three: Children.
Focus Group #1..........................76
Focus Group #2..........................83
Limitations of Study........................Ill
A. WORKPLACE LEARNING PROJECT
B. FOCUS GROUP QUESTIONS.........................116
C. INFORMED CONSENT FORM....................... 118
Several years ago, I taught a career exploration class to a group of low-
income teenagers. The class was part of a youth program for young people who had
dropped out of high school or were at risk of dropping out.
As a learning exercise, I asked the students to describe their ideal job.
Many of them focused on features like a job where you get regular breaks or a job
where you dont have to stand on your feet for 8 or 10 hours or you dont have a
boss that yells at you. Students shared stories about fathers or sisters or boyfriends
who had had jobs involving conditions that did not include breaks or did involve
standing for extended periods or did have bosses that yelled at employees.
Significantly, none of the students considered issues such as opportunity for
advancement or meaningful or enjoyable work as criteria for an ideal job.
I was distressed by the low expectations they seemed to have about working.
I mentioned the exercise to a colleague and she remarked, Maybe they dont know
anyone who has a good job. Her comment raised questions for me and I wondered,
How do people become socialized about working?
I thought about myself and how I had learned about work and what I had
learned about work. My father was in the insurance business and I remember him
talking about work at the dinner table when I was a child. He used terms like whole
life, annuity and estate planning. I had no idea what he was talking about. But
he seemed to enjoy his work and find it challenging.
Changes in Welfare Policy and Programs
A few years after teaching the career development class, I joined the staff of
the Community College of Denver Workplace Learning Project. I coordinate a one-
semester business services certificate program for individuals on public assistance.
This program was developed to fill a need created by the welfare reform legislation
of 1996 which mandated that individuals receiving cash assistance must be engaged
in activities that lead to employment.
The name of the federal assistance program was changed from Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) to Temporary Aid to Needy Families
(TANF) to reflect the time-limited nature of the assistance. These changes resulted
in the local and state development of welfare-to-work programs. The legislation
made provisions for individuals on cash assistance to participate in short term work
related training, followed by employment. The Workplace Learning Project was
designed to facilitate this process by providing classes and activities to prepare
students for entry level positions in targeted high labor demand fields.
The Workplace Learning Project uses a cohort model in training programs,
meaning a group of students goes through the program as a group, or cohort. One
reason for doing this is to help students develop strong social identities in terms of
education and work/career. Another reason is that students can develop a support
system within the group so they can share resources. Components of the program
also include career planning, goal setting, and staff support and mentoring. One
basis for the model is the concept of situated learning which posits that learning is
a process of social participation within a community of practice which is defined as
an aggregation of people, who through joint engagement in some enterprise, come
to develop and share ways of doing things, ways of talking, beliefs, valuesin short,
practices. (Greeno, Eckert, Stucky, Sachs, & Wenger, 1999) A desired outcome of
the program is that students will experience growth in their lives.
Over the past four years, I have interacted with many single parents on TANF
who have been students in the business services program. I have observed
similarities between the work expectations and attitudes of these students and the
students in the career exploration class. 1 have also observed some students who
have unrealistic expectations of work, such as believing that upon completion of a
one-semester certificate program, they will be able to get a job as, say, a loan officer.
The program conducts formal follow-up with students for one year post-
completion (though some students stay in touch longer) so I have also heard the
experiences of students as they struggle to find and maintain a job, at the same time
caring for their families. I have tried to help students develop a professional identity
that will enable them to work in a business environment that, for many of them,
seems foreign at first. I have also tried to direct the students to resources they may
need to maintain family stability, which is key to maintaining employment.
Challenges for Welfare-to-Work Participants
Finding a job was much easier for them in 2000, when the economy was
booming and there was a shortage of entry level workers. In the 2004 economy,
competing with laid off workers who may have years of work experience, has made
the task much more difficult for these students who are transitioning from welfare-
to-work so it is important that they are able to retain a job once hired.
Some of these individuals have done quite well, getting hired in an
organization, seeking and getting promotions, and moving up the career ladder.
Others have had difficulty finding jobs or retaining jobs. As I have pondered the
experiences of these welfare-to-work transitioners I am acquainted with, I have
formed questions. Why do some find success and longevity at their jobs? Why do
some quit jobs or get fired? How do they think of themselves in relation to work and
career? And how do other aspects of their livesfamilies, friends, communities
impact their work lives?
Although it would be unreasonable to universalize student characteristics,
there are some noteworthy patterns that cut across many of the students that may
relate to employment issues. Typically students have no substantial work history or
they have taken substantial time off work in the recent past due to parenting
responsibilities. Academically, most did not complete high school although many
have earned a GED. Most are ethnic minorities. Most are from poor or working
class families. Most are the first in their families to attend college. Throughout the
history of the business services program, 99% of the students have been female (see
Appendix A for demographics). Most receive little or no help from the fathers of
their children, financially or caring for the children. Clearly, then, student are
members of multiple marginalized groups.
The students own work experience is generally limited to fast food, retail or
labor type jobs and they have shared many stories about harassment, autocratic
bosses, promised raises that never happened and the like. Many have had negative
job separations such as walking off the job after a dispute with a boss, co-worker, or
verbally abusive customer or quitting a job because they perceived some other kind
of ill treatment. For example, one student shared with me that she had been fired
from a job for throwing a hamburger at a rude customer. Complaining or quitting
jobs in which they perceived unjust treatment is a form of resistance similar to that
discussed in Asian American Women at Work (Chow, 1999). Chow states that
women in lower occupational status jobs were more willing to resist because they
had less to lose than those in higher status occupations. This seems to have been the
case for many of the business services students as well.
Employers in the corporate world often have expectations that may not match
with expectations or obligations of welfare-to-work transitioners. This disconnect
between employer and his or her new employee can result in misunderstandings and
problems on the job, such as lack of advancement, disciplinary action, or ultimately,
termination of the employee.
Some of the key behaviors that employers expect are outstanding attendance
and punctuality, especially during the probationary period, which is generally the
first 90 days. In addition, they expect an employee to leave his or her problems at
home and be completely focused on the job. They expect their employees to have
positive attitudes (which may be defined differently by various employers). They
also expect new employees to learn the job and to understand the workplace culture
quickly. Workers who have little or no exposure to the dominant culture of the
workplace may not be familiar with these expectations and protocols. Employer
assumptions about what workerseven entry level workersshould know, can
result in the loss of a job for those employees trying to enter the workforce from
welfare programs. Research shows that many women who enter employment lose
jobs and reapply for welfare (Hershey, 1997). Reasons for losing jobs are many and
are as likely to be related to family or institutional barriers as to performance on the
jobalthough the two can be related. Returning to welfare is demoralizing for the
parent, financially difficult for their families, and costly for the welfare system and
Developing Work Attitudes and Work Identities
From a social constructionist viewpoint, people develop identities and
attitudes based on the social context in which they live (Penman, 1992). Individuals
are influenced from an early age by their families, peers, members of their
communities, and school experiences. Their personal and group identity is molded,
in part, through associations with others. If an individual is part of a marginalized or
minority community, the standards of the dominant culture may not be integrated
into their knowledge base. Or, the individual may choose not to abide by the
standards of the dominant culture.
There are volumes of studies about welfare reform that explore how welfare-
to-work transitioners are doing once they drop off the TANF rolls. Many of these
studies address concrete barriers to employment such as inadequate child care, or
housing issues that can affect work performance or ability to work (Rangarajan&
Johnson, 2002). Other studies focus on financial aspects of transitioning from
welfare-to-work, such as lack of health insurance once Medicaid benefits end (Gritz,
Mancuso, Liebennan & Lindler, 2001). Most of these studies are quantitative.
Many of the studies are public policy research, designed to answer the question of
whether welfare reform is working rather than focusing on the actual experiences
of the welfare-to-work transitioners themselves.
I wanted to find out from welfare-to-work transitioners how they feel about
working and careers, what their childhood exposure to the concept of work involved,
how they perceive themselves as workers and how that perception may have changed
over time, and how they manage their lives around work. This study entails a
qualitative analysis in the hope of developing a better understanding of the
perspectives of welfare-to-work transitioners as they attempt to navigate the world of
employment. Data in this study consists of taped one-on-one interviews and focus
groups. Study participants were former students of the Workplace Learning Project
business services program. Interpreting and analyzing the information gathered from
the subjects was challenging and enlightening forme.
I believe my research may be useful to individuals and organizations that run
programs designed to facilitate welfare-to-work transition, because it may identify
ways to better prepare students for the transition in terms of skills, such as
understanding workplace culture, communication, and balancing work and family,
necessary to maintain employment. I think the research also indicates the
importance of program staff following up with transitioners after they have begun
working to assist with problems that might emerge, either in the workplace or in their
personal or family situation.
Another audience is employers of welfare-to-work transitioners. If these
employers have a better understanding of attitudes of welfare to work employees
they can, if they so desire, find ways of assisting these employees to develop
professionally, thus enabling them to succeed on the job. Employers might also gain
a deeper appreciation of the many demands of single working parents. This may
suggest to the employers new ways to be more family friendly and new ways to
build and retain a better, more diverse workforce.
Social services agencies may also benefit from knowing about the
experiences some of these women have had and some of the hardships they have
faced. Many welfare-to-work transitioners appear to be in a financially tenuous
position. There may be ways social services agencies can assist them in accessing
From a critical theorist perspective, one objective of this research is to
involve study participants in the research process with the desired outcome that they
become empowered through their participation (Kemmis & Wilkinson, 1998). I
believe study participants may have gained a sense of empowerment first, simply by
being asked to contribute their views to the research discussion and, secondly, by
engaging in dialogue with others about their attitudes and beliefs and finding
Social constructionism explores how words and ideas shape peoples reality.
The act of telling ones story can help to order and make meaning of experience. I
believe there are indications in the course the narratives and focus group discussions
this research embodies, that participants gain an awareness of the transformative
nature of their individual and collective identities. They talk about how they used to
feel or be and how they have changed.
This paper is intended to be an exploratoiy work that takes an in-depth look
at a groupwelfare-to-work transitionerswhose attitudes and beliefs about work
have gone largely unexplored. In Chapter One, I have attempted to provide a
framework for the discussion that follows. In Chapter Two, I discuss the role of
theory in my research. In Chapter, Three, I present a review of relevant literature
about the development of identity and its attendant attitudes, about experiences of
welfare-to-work transitioners, about employer expectations, and about barriers facing
welfare-to-work transitioners. In Chapter Four, I explain the research methods I
employed in the study. In Chapter Five, I analyze the narratives and focus group
discussions. In Chapter Six, I discuss the implications of the study and make
recommendations based on the research.
ROLE OF THEORY
This research is rooted in social constructionism which is a process oriented
practice in that it examines the processes by which individuals derive meaning and
understanding of the world. These processes are not static but ongoing and subject
to change as new experiences and social interactions occur (Burr, 1995.)
Gergen (1985) developed the following premises about social constructionist
1. A critical stance towards taken-for-granted knowledge
2. Historical and cultural specificity
3. Knowledge is sustained by social processes
4. Knowledge and social action go together
All four points are contradictory to the positivism and empiricism of
traditional science. There is no one reality. Knowledge is based on perception
which can change depending on historical or culture context. We develop
understanding and meaning through social interaction. And our decisions about how
we will act are based on our socially constructed understanding of the world.
In this research I explore how individuals transitioning from welfare-to-
work perceive themselves in relation to work. This includes how they came to
understand the concept of work through social interaction as children and other
experiences that provided them with an understanding of work and of career.
In addition to social constructionism, I have relied on critical theory in my
research. Once again, I made this choice because study participants are members of
groups that are not part of the dominant white culturewomen, ethnic minorities,
lower socioeconomic class, welfare recipients. Critical theory allowed me, through
their stories to explore die interplay between an individual and her social and cultural
environment. It also allowed me to look for voices of resistance in the narratives.
Since the population I studied is one that is often disenfranchised, I chose to
conduct narrative analysis and focus group analysis. This gave participants a chance
to voice their opinions and share their experiences. I hope the experience of sharing
their views and stories gave them a sense of empowerment, which is a key element
of critical theory studies.
These participants are in an interesting position in terms of social identity.
They have been mandated to find jobs. All of them completed a one semester
financial services program through the Community College of Denver Workplace
Learning Project. The program was designed to help them become more
employable. In an effort to find jobs in the business world, program participants and
graduates generally adapt themselves somewhat to the dominant business culture.
Their work social identity is changing. At the same time, they want to maintain their
identity and, so are sometimes resistant to changing. The interview participants and
the focus group participants were at a different point in this process. The narrative
analysis group was in the program at the time they were interviewed. The focus
group participants had completed the program at least one year before.
The use of social constructionist theory, combined with critical theory,
provides a framework for exploring these participants understanding of their
changing identitiesseveral participants relate transformation talesand their
resistance to power structures they perceived as unfair and disrespectful to them as
REVIEW OF LITERATURE
The review of literature will examine relevant research in five key areas: 1)
theories about how people develop social and work identities, 2) theories about how
people develop attitudes and expectations about work and the relationship between
work attitudes and job retention/career advancement 3) existing studies about women
transitioning from welfare to work, 4) employer expectations, and 5) challenges,
such as institutional barriers, that face welfare-to-work transitioners.
Since attitudes are aspects of identity, the discussion on theories of how
people develop attitudes begins with the process by which people acquire an identity.
Individuals develop a personal identity and a variety of group and social identities.
Personal identity encompasses a set of personality characteristics. Group and social
identities develop through interaction with others (Allen, 2004). Individuals
continuously construct meanings from experience and perceptions. Language and
the meanings we ascribe to it are central to our experience of reality and to our social
identity (Littlejohn, 1999). Because communication occurs within cultural and
historical contexts, identity is a product of these contexts (Burr, 1995).
Gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, political climate, and many other
factors contribute to the development of social identities. The participants in my
research are low-income single mothers and a majority of them are ethnic minorities.
Consequently, their social identities, attitudes, and beliefs about themselves and
others also may be influenced by a variety of cultural forces. Critical theory bears
examination of the interplay of social categories and culture.
Gender is a socially constructed phenomenon. Our conception of gender and
gender differences is based on meanings that have evolved through language, history
and culture (Hare-Mustin and Marecek, 1990). Simply put, girls have traditionally
been treated differently from boys. Boys socialization is achievement-oriented
while girls socialization is nurturance-oriented (Chodorow, 1989). Carol Gilligans
Meeting at the Crossroads (1992) examines how girls change from pre-adolescence,
when they are open and expressive, to adolescence, when they become more
concerned with maintaining non-confrontational relationships, even if it means
concealing their feelings. Gilligan attributes this phenomenon to social pressure to
have a perfect girl image.
The gendering of roles carries over into the workplace. Allen (2004)
discusses how socially constructed gender roles can lead to the gendering of jobs.
She refers to pink-collar jobs that are traditionally performed by women and
emotional labor jobs in which women are expected to display appropriate
emotionspositive ones, in most casesin relating to customers and co-workers.
Women are disproportionately employed in administrative, clerical, and service jobs
based on the dominant culture stereotype of women as supporters and caretakers.
This line of thinking takes the womans traditional role as mother and transfers it
into the workplace. The workplace expectations of women, generated by this kind of
stereotyping, can impede a womans opportunities for career growth. In addition to
limiting the work roles of women, this transference of mother role into the workplace
also portrays women as less committed professionally by implying that family is a
womans primary consideration (Wood, 1999).
In a recent Rocky Mountain News column about careers, the author discusses
good girl behavior. Women, she says, will do more and more work with the belief
they will be promoted when, in fact, what they may need to do is be more assertive .
and be better negotiators (Hymowitz, 2004).
Ethnicity is another socially constructed designator that creates an
otherness from the dominant, white, heterosexual culture (Higgenbotham, 1992).
Individuals from ethnic minorities are often marginalized as a result. Women from
ethnic minorities potentially face marginalization on two accountsas women and
as ethnic minorities. The difficulties of women and ethnic minorities in achieving
parity with the dominant culture are reflected in poverty and school dropout rates.
According to poverty statistics from the US Census Bureau (2002), Hispanic
households had a 21.8% poverty rate and Black households had a 24% poverty rate.
Female heads of household with children under age 6 were at a 48.6% rate. These
numbers are significantly higher than the overall poverty rate of 12.1%.
In terms of education, Colorado Hispanic and Black females drop out of high
school in significantly higher numbers that their white female counterparts (Colorado
Department of Education). One possible explanation for this is that Hispanics and
Blacks, particularly those of low socioeconomic status, tend to be overrepresented in
special education or limited English classes and underrepresented in gifted programs
(Meier & Stewart, 1991.) According to Reyes, Gillock and Kabus (1994), Mexican
American females perception of school support declines dramatically in their first
year of high school because of negative school experiences.
Social class can be a major factor in ones identity (Allen, 2004). Social
class is yet another social construction that can create antipathy between groups.
Classism results when members of one class have more privileges, power, and status
than members of another. Moon and Rolison (1998) discuss two ways in which
classism can be communicatedinvisibility and hypervisibility:
Institutionalized classism functions to make lower valenced class
groups invisible, and thus unworthy of recognition (e.g., non-
persons such as janitors and maids), or hypervisible and marked as
symbols of ridicule (e.g., rednecks, poor White trash), disdain
(e.g., welfare recipients), and/or fear (e.g., the underclass, gangs), (p.
129, authors emphasis)
In recent years, the gap between classes has grown in the United States with
the wealthier classes getting wealthier and the poorer classes losing financial ground.
An estimated 36 million jobs were lost between 1979 and 1993 according to US
Department of Labor statistics. Manufacturing will have an estimated 1.3 million
less workers in 2005 than it did in 1994 (US Department of Labor). New jobs have
been added but many of them are part-time, pay less and have fewer benefits
(Zunker, 1998). since the 1970s, virtually all our income gains have gone to the
highest income-earning 20% of our households, according to James Lardner
(1998). This results in even greater hostility between classes and in individuals who
perceive a threat to their well-being laying blame on members of other groups
In 1965, Clark coined the phrase culture of poverty to explain the
intergenerational cycle of poverty that exists in the United States. His premise was
that those in poverty remain there because they have a present time orientation that
prevents them from planning for the future. In other words, the poor were
responsible for their condition. This theory stirred up a whirlwind of controversy,
but I believe many people agree with Clarks idea. In Families on the Fault Line
(1994), Rubin discusses her interviews with working class men who rail against
lazy bums on welfare. Fine and Weis (1998) share similar stories told to them
about too many people in the neighborhood not working or even trying to work.
An alternative view of the culture of poverty is that structural factors such as
a lack of social organization and economic opportunities in poor urban
neighborhoods create a culture in which joblessness, drugs, crime, and other social
problems flourish. Jenson (2000), in an article about urban youth and gangs, states
that within a three-mile radius of South Central Los Angeles, there are 640 liquor
stores but no movie theaters or community centers. Wilson (1996) links these
neighborhood structural factors to social psychological conditions of residents. Self-
efficacy, or the belief in ones ability to achieve goals, can be weakened by structural
problems such as limited opportunity and economic marginalization. A sense of
powerlessness and the belief that, in spite of ones best efforts, meaningful
employment is not obtainable can bring about a resistance to mainstream norms
associated with work and work ethics (Anderson, 1990). The point here is not to
imply that individuals from poor urban neighborhoods do not have work ethics.
Many people work very hard but repeatedly run up against the lack of opportunities
in their community (Newman, 1999).
Factors in the Development of Identity
Identity and its attendant attitudes, beliefs and values are complex and fluid
with many intertwining strands. Because identity is socially constructed and
contextual, it is always changing. In addition to the categories mentioned above,
contributing factors can include an individuals personal and family relationships, his
or her role in the community, and other factors that make each of us unique.
It is important to note that the development of work identity and attitudes
occurs on an individual level, but within social, cultural and political contexts. The
ancient Greeks, for example disdained work and considered it a demeaning activity.
The social and cultural context was that slaves did work and free men did not. In
contrast, the onset of industrialization in America resulted in an emphasis on hard
work and on the evils of idleness (Hill, 1996).
From a social constructionist perspective, individuals develop a sense of self
based on social interaction (Berger & Luckman, 1966). Agents of socializationthat
is, groups of people an individual interacts with influence that individuals identity
development. The family is the primary socialization agent. Schools, peer groups,
community, and the media are additional agencies of socialization. An individual
engages in anticipatory socialization i.e. playing a role he or she feels will be a
likely role later in life, in response to the various agents (Komblum, 1996). Some
scholars believe that in recent years the role of the family as the primary agent of
socialization has declined, causing a detrimental effect on development of a healthy
self-image (Lasch, 1977).
Jablin (1985) discusses a two-phase process of anticipatory socialization in
conjunction with work identity. The first is vocational choice/socialization; the
second is organizational choice/entry. Vocational choice/socialization is a childhood
process. Organizational choice/entry refers to the process that occurs just prior to
accepting a job.
Vocational choice/socialization begins in childhood and is influenced,
according to Jablin, by family, educational institutions, peers and friends, part-time
job experiences, and the media. From early childhood on, individuals are exposed to
occupational information, whether they are conscious of it or not.
Contributions from family regarding work attitudes and expectations are
significant. At an early age, children develop a sense of authority-subordinate roles
and gender roles in different occupations (Kirchner & Vondracek, 1973). They also
learn about jobs by hearing about and discussing specific issues related to parents
jobs (Laska & Micklin, 1981). If a child is from a poor or working class family,
parents may share messages about work that might differ from those of a middle or
upper class family. Poor or working class parents often go every day to jobs they
dislike in order to support their families (Rubin, 1994). If this is the case, the
vocational socialization the children receive from the family may be negative.
It should be noted that job dissatisfaction is not limited to poor or working
class individuals. And a recent survey of Colorado employees indicated that 17%
were dissatisfied with their jobs (Denver Post, 2/29/04.) In Studs Terkels seminal
work (1985), he interviewed workers from a wide variety of blue collar and white
collar jobs and found a significant amount of job dissatisfaction across the board.
Media portrayals of individuals and social groups can also influence
socialization and reinforce stereotyped roles. Television is a significant source of
role identity information for children in the United States. Men on television tend to
be portrayed as possessing leadership qualities (Witt, 2000) or as having a greater
range of occupations than females (Thomas & Zerbinos, 1995). In commercials,
women are generally cast in the role of selling household products or cosmetics,
while men represent financial services and automobile manufacturers (Beasley,
1997). When the sexes are depicted in dated stereotyped roles, children can be
influenced about appearance, products, and about future work roles (Beasley, 1997).
The film, Pocahontas, was lauded for presenting a female protagonist who
decides to help the people of her village rather than succumb to the fairy tale ending
of getting married. In an interesting feminist analysis of the film, Dundes (2001)
posits that Pocahontas is not so different from earlier Disney female characters
because she subverts her own desires to serve others. Pocahontas could have
accompanied John Smith, who she loves, to England to become an ambassador for
Native American people. In that way, she could have been a role model for
combining marriage and career. Dundes sees the portrayal of Pocahontas the
nurturer as a confusing role model for young girls who are being encouraged to
have families and careers.
Ethnicity and social class stereotypes are also perpetuated in the media.
Ethnic minorities are underrepresented on television, and those characters who do
appear may be portrayed negatively, for example, as lazy or unmotivated (Allen,
2004). Socioeconomic class may also be negatively represented. Comedian Jeff
Foxworthys you might be a redneck if... comedy format, which portrays a
particular social group in negative ways, is an example of this (Moon, et. al.). The
implications of these kinds of stereotyping on both social and work identity can be
School is another avenue for children to gain information that forms then-
attitudes about work. Bourdieu and Passeran (1977) theorize that students already
have a pool of cultural knowledge based on social class. This enables students from
the middle class to be more successful in school and, eventually in die workplace,
due to earlier family socialization. In response to this theory, LeCompte and
Dworkin (1991) have postulated that ethnic minority students practice a type of
resistance against the mainstream. By refusing to participate fully in school, they
express their lack of faith in the relationship between school and job success for
them as members of a minority group. In doing so, they set themselves up to be
unsuccessful in school and in work (Ogbu, 1991). While this line of thinking would
indicate that individuals have already been socialized by family, friends, and peers
by the middle or high school years, it overlooks the possibility that socialization is an
Meier & Stewart (1991) present an alternate view on minority student
achievement that asserts that schools do not provide quality education to minority
students. Hispanic students are overrepresented in special education and limited
English classes and underrepresented in gifted and talented classes. African
American students are also overrepresented in special education classes (Oswald,
1999). Hubbard, Mehan, and Villanueva (1994) researched an experimental high
school program that places underachieving minority students into classes with higher
achievers and provides tutoring, mentoring, and group activities. They found that
students in this program were able to establish an academic identity and a
neighborhood identity so they could succeed at school while maintaining their
cultural identity. The students in this program went on to higher education and,
subsequently, to more successful employment.
Cultural capital is the concept that individuals develop ...specialized skills
and knowledge, such as linguistic and cultural competencies through ones family
and from experiences in social institutions (Allen, 2004, p. 98). Students who are
channeled into special education classes, which tend to be more rote and controlled,
do not develop cultural capital that will help them to obtain a better job.
According to Ann Arnett Ferguson in Bad Boys: Public Schools in the
Making of Black Masculinity (2000), special education classes offer very routine
work, often done in isolation from others, such as self-paced computer learning. The
classes are under high surveillance by teachers and the main lessons being taught are
how to conform, follow directions, and be passive. This is in contrast to regular
classrooms where creativity, group work, and the development of critical thinking
skills is stressed. Consequently, students in special education classes are not getting
the knowledge to move on to higher education, or even to regain a position in the
mainstream classroom or to develop desirable work skills
According to Brantlinger (2001), education has institutionalized limitations in
reaching disenfranchised groups. In addition, she asserts the dominant group
perpetuates stories such as the American Dream of Social Mobility as a way of
convincing high achievers and low achievers that the playing field is level and each
of us gets what we deserve based on our individual efforts. This belief can lead
marginalized individuals to believe they are responsible for having less than the
Many high schools have school-to-work programs designed to provide lower
achieving and at-risk students with work and career experience so they develop a
better understanding of work attitudes and expectations needed to succeed at a job.
Research by Joyce and Neumark (2000) indicates that these programs increase the
likelihood of future college attendance as well as the likelihood of better, more stable
employment in the future. Unfortunately, it has been my experience with women
transitioning from welfare-to-work that many dropped out of school due to
pregnancy, difficulty with school personnel, poor grades, or other reasons so they
may not have had the opportunity to participate in school-to-work programs.
An opposing view of the benefit of school-to-work programs is presented by
Holgate (1999), who theorizes that the program is an effort by government to
mandate its idea of proper work attitudes of an entry-level worker to students at
the expense of academics. Holgate further asserts that school-to-work programs
impede individual student choice (because students are pressured to choose a career
pathway in high school that influences the courses recommended for them) and local
control of schools.
Jablins second phase, organizational choice/entry, can also heavily influence
an individuals socialization to work. Riordan, Weatherly, Vandenberg and Self
(2001) suggest that the greater the applicants perception of a good person-job fit (P-
J fit) and organization-based self-esteem (OBSE) or perception of worth to the
organization, the more positive his or her work attitudes will be. Therefore, it
behooves an organization to use socialization tactics that convey a good job fit and a
sense of value to the potential employee. This might include demonstrating a
willingness to invest in the employee and to provide a supportive work environment.
Riordan et al.(2001) also mention the importance of providing information about
career ladders and training opportunities as a way of emphasizing employee value.
Care must be taken to present the organization and the job in a truthful way.
A key factor in employee assimilation and retention in this phase is the perceived
reliability of the information received and the type of job expectations that result
from the information. There is a strong correlation between a new hires job
expectations and successful organizational socialization and job retention. The
higher the job expectation, the greater the chance that, once a worker is hired, he or
she will be dissatisfied or disillusioned and will not develop a commitment to the
organization. Unrealistic job expectations, prior to starting a job, may have adverse
effects on job retention. Recruiters and human resources staff, however, are
essentially public relations people and they tend to present the organization and the
job to potential hires in the most positive light (Wanous, 1977,1980). Wanous
suggests that a realistic job preview (RJP) could temper unrealistic job
expectations and improve employee retention.
Factors in the Development of Work Identity
Socialization to work identity begins in childhood and is a lifelong process. Because
of the socially constructed nature of identity, changes in context, such as getting a
first job or approaching retirement, can alter work identity. Factors such as quality
of education and vocational information, or lack of information, can also affect
development of work identity.
Work Attitudes of Welfare-to-Work Transitioners
Welfare-to-work transitioners have one thing in commonthey are all
parents. This factor is a major aspect of their personal and social identity that can
impact their attitudes about work. For parents who have little work experience, the
mother identity9 may be more fully developed than the work or professional identity
and this can create cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance occurs when there
is a break in logic between two cognitive elements such as attitude, behavior,
perception, or knowledge (Festinger, 1957). Dissonance theory states that situations
that involve decision making, forced compliance, initiation, social support, or effort
are likely to cause cognitive dissonance (Littlejohn, 1999). Welfare-to-work
transitioners, mandated to work by welfare reform, may face any or all of these
conditions as they move into the workplace and attempt to align their roles as parent
Work social identity and self-efficacy are two aspects of psychological
capital that can impact welfare-to-work transitioners attitudes about work (Kossek,
Huber & Lemer, 2003). Work social identity describes the amount of value an
individual places on work as part of ones identity (Lobel & St. Clair, 1992). For
example, a study of Mexican American women (Ortiz, 1995) indicates that working
women from working class origins tend to base their identity more on family
responsibilities than work, whereas women with higher level professional jobs see
work as more central to their identity. Ortiz attributes this to the lack of importance
placed on a womans workplace success in Mexican American culture. A strong
work social identity can increase the likelihood of retaining a job.
A high level of self-efficacy has been shown to correlate to greater
motivation and tenacity in achieving goals (Bandura, 1986). For welfare-to-work
transitioners who must leam new skills and change family and life routines, high
self-efficacy can be an important factor in attaining and retaining employment.
Family social structure is another key factor that can affect attitudes about
work. For low-income single mothers, the ease or difficulty of juggling work and
family responsibilities impact their psychological state and stress level (Kossek,
1993). Factors such as number and age of children, childrens mental and physical
health, and childrens school performance may influence the mothers attitudes about
working and, in families with many issues, may affect her ability to work outside the
In interviews with low-income single mothers, a majority of whom were on
public assistance, Fine and Weis (1998) found some common concerns. First,
because interviewees lived in dangerous neighborhoods replete with drugs, gangs,
and guns, they felt the need to assiduously protect their children. Second, many of
them felt they were perceived as bad parents, by the dominant culture and by
social services agencies. They contended that social services watched them and
monitored their parenting. They seemed fearful that their children could be taken
away over minor incidents or injuries, whether the child was in their care at the time
or in the care of a family member or childcare provider. For these reasons, they were
tom in their feelings about working. They were attracted by the prospect that work
could help them move their families to a better neighborhood. But most said they
knew few people they would trust to care for their children. Their reluctance to be
apart from their children at a job is understandable in this context.
It is interesting to note that a report on the state of welfare reform and child
welfare by the Urban Institute conducted in 1999-2000 states that:
Nationally, many policy-makers, researchers, and advocates have
expressed a concern that families who did not fare well under new
welfare requirements might be referred to child welfare agencies for
child abuse or neglect. Thus far, however, welfare reform does not
appear to have had a significant impact of child welfare caseloads in
Colorado. (Capizzano, Koralek, Botsko & Bess, 2001, p. 22)
And, a few paragraphs later in the same study,
Despite widespread concern in the state, thus far child welfare
caseloads have not increased following welfare reform, (p. 22)
These remarks would indicate that there was an expectation on the part of
administrators that work requirements would affect the ability of welfare to work
transitioners to provide good parenting. These statements lend credence to the
parents assertions that authority figures question their parenting skills.
Transitioners Development of Work Attitudes
Balancing the roles of mother and worker is challenging for welfare-to-
work transitioners. Family responsibilities, and cultural and social influences are
factors in ones motivation and feeling of confidence about work.
Existing Studies of Welfare-to-Work Transitioners
A commonly held belief is that people are on welfare because they want to be
(Fine & Weis, 1998). It has been my experience that students entering the
Workplace Learning Project to transition from welfare-to-work are highly motivated
to work. A survey conducted by Hamilton (1999) indicated that pride in work was a
significant value among welfare recipients. According to Hamiltons survey results,
staying employed rated highest in order of importance to those surveyedhigher
Still, research indicates that 25-40% of women who obtain employment lose
it and return to welfare (Hershey, 1997). One reason for job loss is lack of
experience meeting employer expectations (Hershey, 1997). Personal or family
problems is another. Financial difficulties associated with losing welfare benefits,
such as Medicaid or food stamps is yet another possible reason to return to welfare.
Numerous studies show that there are significant barriers facing this group of
workers as they attempt to transition from welfare to work. One such study (Bowie,
London, Polit, Scott, Valenzuela & Widom, 2001) indicates that women subject to
the 1996 welfare reform mandates have suffered significant material hardships.
Study findings showed that: 7% of the women studied worked more than 50 hours
per week, some at two jobs; the majority of womens incomes were below the
official poverty level; two in five women had no fringe benefits, and less than 50%
had health benefits. The study concluded Thus, many of those who are playing by
the rules appear to be losing ground. (Bowie, et.al, 2001, p.5). It should be noted
that this study was done in 1998-1999 when the United States was experiencing a
Studies indicate that employers expectations of employees have increased
over the past two decades. In 1981, employers expected employees to be at work at
the scheduled time and possess the basic skills necessary for the job. Since that time,
expectations have grown to include problem solving skills, team work skills,
flexibility, decision making skills, and work ethics (Akron Regional Development
Board, 1997). Employers are particularly concerned with what they perceive as a
decline in work ethic in general (Akron Regional Development Board, 1997; MDRC,
1989). Companies who have been willing to hiring welfare-to-work transitioners are
sometimes wary. Some feel that utilizing this group of potential workers necessitates
high turnover rates to find the good employees among those with bad work habits
A survey of employers who hired welfare-to-work transitioners indicated
problems with attitudes toward work and problems with co-worker relations had
occurred with these workers18% and 16%, respectively (Holzer & Wissoker,
2001). Far greater problems occurred with absenteeism (41%) associated with
childcare (64%), transportation (41%), and physical health problems (34%). These
statistics indicate that external factors had more significance than attitude issues on
work performance. In some cases, these problems resulted in either termination or
the employee quitting. In other cases, the problems were resolved.
Assisting welfare-to work transitioners to adapt to the dual role of
employee and parent can help improve job retention. Hershey (1997) cites on-going
case management, counseling, and advice on workplace behavior, financial planning,
coping with family emergencies, and mediation with employers to solve conflicts as
successful retention strategies.
Stress related to balancing home and work roles may be one reason for job
loss resulting in high welfare recidivism rates. In a study by Burden and Goggins
(1987), working parents were found to have significant amounts of stress related to
balancing home and work responsibilities. The study included single-parent families
and two-parent families with both parents working. The results indicated that
parents in both groups experienced a tremendous amount of stress. Women
especially demonstrated decreased emotional well-being due to multiple demands.
The researchers suggest that employers continue to operate as though the nuclear
family (in which the man works and the woman takes care of home and children) is
the norm when, in fact, that is not the case. The study further suggests that increased
strain, reduced ability to cope, and conflicts in role demands affect absenteeism, job
satisfaction and morale, productivity, and health costs of employees. In a study of
single parent families, it was reported that the presence of another adult in the
household is a major positive factor in the mothers psychological welfare and in
ability to work (McLanahan, 1997).
These studies would indicate that it behooves employers to re-assess their
policies regarding families. A more recent study of women on public assistance
transitioning into the workplace indicates a need for greater public and employer
consideration of the care giving role these parents fill, in addition to work, if they
truly want to achieve workplace diversity (Kossek, et.al., 2003).
External Challenges to Welfare-to-Work Transitioners
Women transitioning from welfare-to-work face many barriers to
employment stability. Many of these barriers are not related to work attitudes.
Rather, they are institutional or structural barriers involving resourcespersonal,
community, and socialthat are most likely beyond the control of the individual
A Work First approach, designed to get welfare recipients employed
quickly, has been the strategy of welfare reform policies. The problem with this
approach is that transitioners wages are low and upward mobility is limited. While
some states provide education and training, it is limited and short term, and does not
significantly increase earning power. Longer term training which might have a
positive effect on earnings and job growth is considered too costly (Holzer &
Wissoker, 2001). Often, the only jobs transitioners are able to obtain are often part-
time, temporary, or seasonal, and do not pay enough to pull them and their families
out of poverty, nor do these jobs provide important benefits, such as sick leave or
Nine million jobs have disappeared in the United States in the past three
years, many of them jobs once held by low income individuals, including former
TANF recipients (Center for Economic Policy Research, 2003). Some employment
sectors in which many transitioners are employed, such as food service, lodging,
nursing, and staffing supply services, showed the addition of new jobs but have
experienced flat wage growth or even wage declines (US Census Bureau). The
(National Organization for Women (2004) argues that allowing those transitioning
off welfare to attend school or vocational training that will lead to better paying jobs
would greatly increase their ability to support themselves and their families.
Low pay and sporadic work that many transitioners experience has kept them
living in poor communities that lack educational and job opportunities, adequate
transportation systems, and quality child care (Kossek, et. al., 2003). In addition,
many transitioners live in unsafe, high crime neighborhoods. Poor housing or rent
that strains the family budget are common. Lack of healthcare and lack of food
resources have been reported (Bowie, et. al., 1999). Faced with this array of
hardships, maintaining employment, much less a positive attitude, poses significant
challenges for these women.
Government mandated work that focuses on phasing women out of the TANF
system into employment without consideration for economic and social factors, does
not seem to improve the lives of many women and their families. A more holistic
approach to examining work would consider not only workers, but their families,
their communities, and the larger social picture, is needed. Economic and
community development and employer reforms are needed to make welfare-to-work
transitioners successful and financially self-sufficient (Kossek, et.al, 2003).
Many welfare-to-work transitioners are eligible for certain types of financial
assistance such as food stamps or child care assistance. Few take advantage of these
services, either because they are not informed, or because applying for services
requires regularly attending appointments that may conflict with work
(Bowie, et. al.,1999). Another reason for this might be that, as welfare recipients,
transitioners were subjected to what they perceive as classism and lack of respect
from social services workers (Lent, 2001). Martinson (2000) found a positive
correlation between transitioners who were most successful in maintaining
employment and utilization of available benefits such as child care assistance and
transitional Medicaid. Lent (2001) argues that a more person-centered approach to
administering welfare-to-work programs would be more successful in helping
transitioners achieve employment goals.
Employers also pose institutional barriers to women transitioning off welfare.
Employers expect employees to manage their family responsibilities so as not to cost
the employer productivity or pay. The United States is one of the few developed
countries in the world that does not offer some kind of paid maternity leave
(Cummings, 2001). Further, California employers were vehemently opposed to
recent legislation to provide (through additional employee contributions to the state
temporary disability program) a paid family leave provision. Organized labor
strongly supported this measure which will become effective July 1,2004.
Employers consider the bill to be anti-business (Green, 2002). The work readiness
of welfare-to-work transitioners is the topic of many articles but few address the
issue of employers being mother ready. Albelda (2001) states that employers need
to offer better pay and benefits for entry-level jobs and take into account the
responsibilities faced by single working parents.
The national unemployment rate was 5.6% in February, 2004. The official
number of unemployed was 8.2 million people (US Department of Labor).
Employers are cautious about hiring new employees (Rocky Mountain News. March
6,2004). Such economic conditions enable employers to change or upgrade the
minimum qualifications for a job because of the large numbers of applicants.
Employers are able to pose more stringent requirements, in terms of education,
experience or other factors, for a position than they had when the labor market was
tighter. They may also augment their screening process in other ways. More
employers are now conducting credit checks on potential employees, for example
(Denver Post, March 7,2004.) For welfare-to-work transitioners, who may have
limited training and work experience, competing in a high unemployment labor
market is difficult.
The literature suggests that available data on the relationship between
welfare-to-work transitioner work attitudes and job retention is primarily from the
employers point of view. As stated previously, employers perceive a decline in
employee work ethics in general. This review of current literature revealed that
research about the work attitudes of women transitioning from welfare-to-work is a
largely unexplored area. Little research is available on how welfare-to-work
transitioners themselves view their work attitudes and how those attitudes might
relate to job retention and advancement. The lack of data in this area is an
indication of the need for the research.
A vast amount of literature exists about the development of personal and
social identity, but little of it relates directly to the development of work identity and
attitudes of die welfare-to-work population. Much of the literature about welfare-to-
work involves quantitative studies that track employment retention, unemployment,
earnings, and other aspects of transitioners work life designed to measure the
success rate of the welfare reform measures that began in 1996. Other studies
explore the material and other obstacles transitioners face as they attempt to become
less dependent on public assistance.
The questions driving the current research are:
What are the work attitudes and expectations of welfare-to-work
What factors do welfare-to-work transitioners feel contribute to those
attitudes and expectations?
What variables, either related to work attitudes and expectations or
external work-related factors, present challenges or opportunities for
How, if at all, do the work-related attitudes/expectations and work-
related challenges/opportunities correspond to job retention and career
In undertaking this research, I sought to explore the socially constructed
nature of work identity and attitudes for a particular group of individualswomen
transitioning from welfare-to-work. I felt it was important to listen to what members
of this group had to say about their feelings and experiences about work and career
and try to understand the meanings they create around work.
My original intent in this research was to focus primarily on the work
attitudes of participants, with a secondary focus on potential institutional barriers,
mainly the attitudes of employers toward workers. The literature on external
challenges that face welfare-to-work transitioners, such as continued poverty and
lack of opportunity, has prompted me to study more closely those portions of the
narratives that delve into these types of challenges. The goal of the present study,
therefore, is to contribute to the literature in this specific area.
For this research, I combined narrative analysis and focus group
methodologies to explore 1) how work identity and attitudes about work develop, 2)
how they affect job retention and career development, 3) how they may or may not
change over time, 4) how welfare-to-work transitioners perceive employer attitudes,
and 5) what external work-related factors present challenges or opportunities.
I considered quantitative research or a combination of quantitative and
qualitative research. From a practical standpoint, quantitative research such as a
survey would be difficult to implement because the welfare-to work transitioner
population tends to be transient. Phone numbers and addresses change as life
circumstances change. I was concerned that the response would not be large enough
to conduct a study that would glean meaningful data.
The goal of qualitative research from a social constructionist perspective is
to rely as much as possible on the participants views of the situation being
studied. (Creswell, 2003) This was my goal is conducting this research. The
combined use of these qualitative methods of studynarrative analysis and focus
groups yielded richer material than would be obtained using quantitative methods
because the participants had an opportunity to share their feelings and beliefs as fully
as they would like and in their own words. Narrative analysis leaves interpretation to
the researcher but allows for an in-depth examination of language and the
exploration of how people talk about their experiences. Mishler (1995) proposed
analyzing narrative by reconstructing the told from the telling. I feel this is a
model that is well suited to the narratives I chose to analyze. The topic of discussion
in the tapes was attitudes and changes in attitudes. The ability to analyze language,
context, historical, and temporal aspects of the interviews brings an interpretation
that would not be possible with other types of qualitative methods. What do the
respondents want the interviewer/reader to know about themselves and their
experiences? This is what I attempted to explore in my analysis. How people tell
their stories is a reflection of their socially constructed reality.
Interview methods allow participants an active role in the research process by
allowing diem to offer interpretations of their own attitudes and perspectives. A
strength of focus groups is that interaction occurs not only between the facilitator and
participants, but among the participants themselves (Bryman, 2001.) This interaction
can lead to a broader discussion than might occur in a one-on-one interview.
The use of both qualitative methods serves as a checks and balances
system to improve the validity of the researchers interpretation. By triangulating
methods, I was able to take advantage of the strengths of both and monitor the
soundness of my themes (Estenberg, 2002.)
The research process, from inception to gathering and analyzing data to
disseminating findings has included a number of ethical considerations. Although I
took every precaution, I still had ethical questions occur to me.
The main issue that I carefully considered throughout the study is that I have
knowledge of the participants beyond the scope of the interviews. All participants
had completed the Community College of Denver financial services certificate
program. I am an employee who interacts regularly with students in the program.
This caused me concern on several levels.
First, I arranged for Dr. Allen to come to my classes and ask students to
volunteer to interview. Both Dr. Allen and I assured students that participation was
voluntary, and some students did decline the interview. Nevertheless, I was in a
position of power in relation to the students at that point in time because I was
program coordinator of the program the students were enrolled in. I feel that
developing a high level of trust with students is an important part of my job as
program coordinator and I do not believe anyone participated unwillingly. Still, I am
aware the potential was there.
As a result of my consideration about Allens interviews, when I contacted
past program students about focus group participation, I stressed that I was
contacting them, not as a Workplace Learning Project employee, but as a student at
the University of Colorado at Denver. These individuals had all completed program
requirements so the power relationship was different from with the first group of
On another level, my personal knowledge of study participants was cause for
consideration as I interpreted data. Because I know more about these individuals
that just information gathered in interviews, I had to take care about letting my
knowledge creep into die interpretation process. When I was transcribing and
analyzing the taped interviews, I was conscious that I know what some of the
interviewees are doing now. Although I worked to separate myself from the
speakers, I experienced some poignant momentspositive and negativebecause of
my background knowledge of various aspects of their lives.
After one of the focus groups, a participant told me she had come to the
group because I had helped her in the past and she felt she wanted to help me in
return. As a person and as a program coordinator, I appreciated her comment. But I
hoped she hadnt felt compelled to participate because she owed me. I also
thought about the individuals who had said they would participate but didnt come. I
wondered if they might have negative feelings about the program, or about me, that
they didnt feel comfortable sharing.
An additional ethical consideration was the use of human subjects. It is
possible that some subjects may have felt uncomfortable answering some questions
or in discussing their individual situations. The informed consent and the focus group
protocol stated that responses were voluntary and that an individual could opt not to
participate at any time before or during the focus group. I cannot guarantee
participant privacy. I included this risk in the informed consent form. Every effort
was made to protect participant confidentiality. In the paper, careful consideration
has been given to the use of information that might potentially identify an individual
participant. I submitted a protocol to the Human Subject Review Committee and
received written committee approval.
In spite of these ethical considerations, I feel that the data collected from this
study is valuable. No research is completely objective and I was conscious of my
situatedness in relation to study participants throughout the design and
implementation of the study. I do not believe one can ever insure that no ethical
issues exist. That is why it is important to share concerns with colleagues, to follow
human subject guidelines, and to make ones research participants and study
audience aware of ones position as researcher.
In spring semester 2002, Brenda Allen, PhD and Associate Professor in the
Communications Department at the University of Colorado at Denver conducted
taped interviews about attitudes toward work with eight students from the
Community College of Denver Essential Skills program I coordinate. The students
were in the midst of a one-semester financial services program and were not
employed. The program is designed to provide students with training in marketable
skills. I transcribed Allens tapes and conducted narrative analysis on some
transcribed interviews, looking for patterns in the participants views about work.
I analyzed the narratives of four students. Allen initially interviewed eight
but some of these did not fit the profile of welfare-to-work transitioners because they
were not on TANF. In my transcription, I have assigned the respondents
pseudonyms so the reader can distinguish which respondent is speaking. I have
labeled Allens remarks with an *T for interviewer.
Allen cleared her work through the institutional review board at University of
Colorado at Denver. Interviewees in Allens study received an explanation of her
research and signed informed consent documents which are on file. Participants
were ensured confidentiality and were offered the option of selecting a pseudonym at
the time interviews were taped. Tapes of the interviews include either a pseudonym
or no name at all. The transcript of these interviews was 54 pages long. Each
interview lasted approximately 20 to 30 minutes.
Allen explained to the students that the purpose for her interviews was to
learn how people think about work with the idea that the information might be useful
for progras such as the one they were in, to better meet student needs. She also told
them the information might be useful to employers. Allens style was casual and
friendly and she attempted to treat the students as partners in her research. The tone
of the interviews was conversational with Allen offering advice and acting as a
mentor at times. I believe she did everything she could to ameliorate any power
dynamics that might make the students feel uncomfortable answering her questions.
Some demographic information on these students might be helpful. This was
a young group of students, ranging in age from 18 to 25. Two of them graduated
from high school, one had her GED, and one did not have a diploma or GED. Three
are Black and one is Hispanic. At the time of the interviews, three of the students
were living with family or friends and one lived in subsidized housing. Three had
one young child under age 2. One had two children, ages 8 and 11. All were on
TANF with the expectation that they would find employment after completing the
Because of my role in the Community College of Denver Workplace
Learning Project, I was in a position to contact enough former students to compose
two small focus groups. I conducted two focus groups made up of past program
participants. One group was composed of individuals who have been successful in
maintaining continuous employment for one to three years. One group was
composed of individuals who have held employment for a time and then experienced
unemployment or have experienced difficulty in obtaining and maintaining
employment. I planned the composition of the groups in this way because I wanted
to make sure that everyone felt comfortable sharing. I was concerned that the
participants that have struggled with employment might feel intimidated by
participants who have been working steadily.
The questions for the focus groups centered on work attitudes they believe
they developed as children, how they felt those attitudes developed, and how these
attitudes have changed or not changed. I also asked the focus groups to discuss their
perspectives on employer attitudes toward themselves as workers.
I conducted the focus groups on February 28,2004. Focus group participants
were former students of the Workplace Learning Project. I initially made contact
with prospective participants by phone. I followed with a written request to
participate in the group interview, along with a brief explanation of the study, and a
copy of an informed consent form. I conducted telephone follow-up to confirm
participation two days before the focus groups occurred. I planned to recruit two
groups of 4-5 women. Five women confirmed for each group. However, not all who
confirmed attended. I had one group of four participants and one group of three
participants. Participants signed an informed consent prior to the start of the focus
groups (Appendix B).
The focus groups met in a Community College of Denver classroom which
was set up conference room style. Because many participants are single working
mothers, the groups were scheduled on Saturday, and on-site childcare was available.
Refreshments were served. The session was audiotaped. I gave a copy of the
interview questions to participants at the beginning of the interview (Appendix C).
Individuals who took part in focus groups received a $20 grocery certificate for their
participation. The transcript for this focus group #1 was 25 pages. The focus group
discussion lasted about 45 minutes. The transcript of focus group #2 was 40 pages.
Focus group discussion lasted about one hour and ten minutes.
The group who was currently not working was composed of one Black and
two Hispanic women. They ranged in age from 21 to 28. One had a high school
diploma and two had a GED. Two lived in subsidized housing and one lived with
family. Two have three children and one has one child. The children range in age
from eighteen months to ten years old. Two were on TANF but ones case was being
closed a few days later.
The group who is currently working was composed of one Caucasian, one
Native American, and two Hispanic women. They ranged in age from 23 to 34.
Three had high school diplomas and one had a GED. One lived in subsidized
housing, one lived with family, and two lived in unsubsidized housing. None were
on TANF but all received some type of assistance, either with childcare expenses,
Medicaid, or food stamps. Three have two children and one has three. The children
range in age from three to fourteen.
Analysis of Data
Data from the transcripts and the focus group interview were analyzed
separately for patterns and underlying themes. Then data from the two methods
were compared for similarities and divergence in participant language, experiences,
and perceptions. In order to provide effective comparisons, I asked the focus group
questions that mirrored those asked by Allen in her interviews, with the addition of
questions regarding employer attitudes. Allen did not address this specific area but I
feel it is an important issue to explore. For this reason, I included this discussion in
the focus group.
Since I approached this research from both social constructionist and critical
theory viewpoints, I was interested in determining whether there are indications of
cultural, class, or gender influences on work identity, attitudes, and expectations. I
was also interested in exploring the possibility of a resocialization process. In
addition, I was interested in finding out whether there are similarities in perceptions
of research subjects about employer attitudes toward them as workers, and how those
attitudes may affect these workers. Finally, I wanted to hear about any other
challenges participants faced that related to work.
Once I completed transcribing the tapes, I examined the transcripts for
patterns in language, ideas and concepts. I identified three main categories of
discussion or thematic unitsearly impressions of work, work and career, and
children. Then, using a model outlined by Mishler (1995), I created a hierarchy by
breaking each of the three categories into smaller units. I parsed the text into parts,
strophes, stanzas and linesparts being the most general and lines being the smallest
unit. The three parts were subdivided into nine strophes, and 38 stanzas. Each
stanza is four lines and is a self-contained mini-narrative that can be examined alone
for thematic content or linked thematically with other stanzas. I italicized words or
phrases that indicate the main concepts in each stanza.
Part One: Early Impressions of Work
Strophe 1. Early Childhood
I. What Id like you to talk with me a little bit about is, you think about while you
were growing up, and the different people around you, whether its family members
or community members or whatever, as you think about them and work, right? What
did work mean to you, what did it look like work was about?
1. About makirt' money.
2. Because it was like, my mom always had to work late
3. and then everybody was always talkin about, well, you gotta pick a nice
career for you so you can be well off when youre older
4. Thats what I would always hear all my life. She instilled that in me.
1. Shes (mom) like, she the kind that if you get a job, she like it right away.
2. And then later on, she didn t like it anymore.
3. So my mom was like, she.. .shed hop around.
4. I dont want to have to do like my mom and switch jobs. I dont like this, I
dont like that. I want a job where I know Ill be there tomorrow.
1. And then, looking at my grandparents, like, my grandma always stayed
2. And then my grandpa always worked.
3. They never went without money. Grandmas house was, like, luxury. They
got everything new.
4. Its just, like, I wanted the work ethic of my grandpa. Cause he had the same
job for like, 20, 30 something years.
For this respondent, career, making money and being well off are important
themes. Stability and security also important thanes for her. She discloses in her
interview that she fell behind in elementary school because she and her mother was
constantly movin. Even though her mother switched jobs often, she discloses that
her grandfather had the same job for 20, 30 years and that her grandparents had a
nice home. The concepts of career, money, and achieving stability seem closely tied
for her. From a social identity theory perspective, she has identified herself more
closely with her grandfather than with her mother. From a social constructivist
perspective, she learned at an early age the relationship between having a long term
job and a nice home by comparing her mothers and her living situation to her
I. What did you think about the meaning of work when you were a little girl? What
did work mean?
1. I used to go wife my grandfather to fee bank and it,.. .it just clicked right
away. This is what I want, this is what I want to do.
2. ... and it was interesting to me because those women were so.. .how can I put
this.. .they were so intelligent to me and I was just a little girl
3. and they dressed well and they smelled nice, they were nice and they
presented themselves well
4. and feats what I wantwanted and still want it.
This respondents early career decision seems tied to image and, perhaps, status.
She liked fee bank employees image and wanted to identify wife them.
I. So fee first question is, um, as you think about when you were growing up, what
did you learn or observe about work, just from watching family members and other
people in your community and so forth, what kind of impressions did you get of
what work means?
1. Um, I just though work was something you go to Monday through Friday
2. Um, I never really felt like anybody who was around really had a career.
3. They just had a job
4. Something they had to do.. .have to pay the bills.
I. Uhuh. And as you think about them, then, and how they were doing their jobs, did
you have any sense of what work was like? I heard you say go from Monday
through Friday and just to pay the bills. But did you have any sense of what they did
and what that was like?
1. No, I just knew they had to work from 9 to 5 Monday through Friday and
came home tired.
2. Well, like they would always come home tired... and .. .fussy.
3. Id be like, dang, what have you all been doing thats so hard
4. and makes you so fussy ?
As a child, this respondent saw work as a necessity that made her parents tired
and fussy. The use of the word fussy and the question she asks in Lines 3 and 4
indicate that, as a child, she may have felt a her parents role as workers affected
their behavior toward her.
I__And my first question is, as you think about when you were growing up, and
you think about in your household and in your community and so forth, what
kinds of impressions did you get about what work was or what work meant?
1. Uhmm.. .what I got out of it when I was younger is that my mom worked and
she kind of worked to make ends meet. Just to pay the bills and stuff.
2. You really couldnt get, like shoes and stuff. It was like an emergency-type
situation where she would have to borrow money.
3. It didnt look all that fun then. It didnt look like it was supposed to be fun
4. It was just something you had to do to make sure we didnt get kicked out,
The reference to work as a necessity to keep the family from getting
kicked out and the difficulty of obtaining of material things like shoes would
indicate that the respondents family struggled financially. For this respondent, her
social reality was constructed around the fact that her mom worked two jobs but still
had difficulty providing necessitieslike shoesfor the family. The theme of
instability previously mentioned by another respondent is echoed here.
Strophe 2. Role Models
The respondent tells about her participation in a youth development program dining
her middle and high school years. Bob (pseudonym) was the program director.
1. I want a job like that I want to do something like,... something that I love to
do like Bob.
2. Because he didnt mind working, you know what Im sayin?
3. He was the kind of person that, if you had a problem, you could call at 2
oclock in the morning. And hell sit there and talk to you.
4. I want ajob like that where its not really a job. Its just something you can
do and get paid for it.
Respondent discusses that math is a very strong subject for her.
I. So ideally, what do you see yourself doing (with your math skills)?
1. Yeah, applying to the IRS. Thats what I wanna do. I wanna be, like, an
agent cause one of my teacher that I had in high school was, used to work
for the IRS.
2. And so he gave he, ah, he seen how I was doin real good as far as
Accounting I so he made me my own special program for Accounting II.
3. Because there was no Accounting II in the school but he made an Accounting
II course, just cause he seen I was so good at it and so strong at it.
4. And then once he seen my grades, you know what Im sayin, he kept pushin
me up, pushin me up far as one area.
Although this respondent refers to her mother as a job jumper who she does not
want to emulate, she clearly had some strong positive role models who influenced
her. From Bob, she develops a sense of doing work one enjoysso much so that it
does not even seem like a job in the sense the term was represented in, say, Stanza
5 and 7.
From her accounting instructor, she seems to have developed a sense of self esteem
and pride in her math/accounting ability as well as some strong mentoring and career
guidance. Her tone on the interview tape is much more animated than other portions
of the tape when discussing her experience with the instructor.
. I. Um, do you wish that somebody in, across your life had done something different
in terms of helping you understand this thing about careers and, uh, planning how to
go about your life, that sort of thing?
1. Yeah, I wish my mom and my dad would have did more. You know, talk to
me more about, you know, what they did.
2. They always said they didnt want me to be like them, that they wanted me to
be better that them
3. but then they never told me how I could be better than them.
4. I wish they would have had me, maybe go to the job with them, you know,
see what it was like. They didnt ever.
The respondent, who in stanza talks about her parents being tired and
fussy after work, seems to desire greater interaction with them about work and
jobs. I get the sense that she feels greater interaction not only would have given
her vocational guidance but might have had a positive affect on her relationship
with them as parents. This ties in with Stanza 6. There is a sense of longing in
her speech in Stanza 10I wish, I wish, they didnt ever.
1. Because I got an auntie whos been working for Qwest since before they
were Qwest, when they was US West.
2. And shes been there 30years...30years
3. So shes been there 30years but she said thats not ever what she wanted to
4. And she spent 30 years at something that she just did it cause it paid the
The auntie reinforces the message of working to pay the bills that the respondent
says she got from her parents in Stanza 5. Although the respondent discloses that the
auntie worked her way up and lives comfortably, her repetition of the phrase 30
years would indicate that she finds the notion of staying at a job you may not like
disturbing. The respondent seems to be engaging in resistance talk in discussing her
parents and her auntie, both of whom worked in jobs they did not seem to enjoy.
From a social constructionist perspective, she has been taught, through family
interaction, that a job is just to pay the bills but is questioning that choice.
Part Two: Work and Career
Strophe 1. Difference Between Job and Career
I. Now whats the difference to you between a job and a career?
1. Oh, a job is a job.
2. You just go out there and work for whatever they give you.
3. If they tell you to sweep, you sweep.
4. A career is where you have your own individual space, you have your own
individual thing that is you own little task and you get it done by the end of
The respondent indicates that she perceives a difference between a job and a
career involving individuality and individual responsibility, and power. In lines 2
and 3, she describes a job as an activity in which the worker does what he or she is
told. There does not appear to be an element of individual control nor a sense of
responsibility to complete the job or do it well. In line 4, she describes career as a
situation in which one has space and work that one has control over as well as
responsibility for. A sense of autonomy and ownership is implied in career whereas
it not implied in her description of job.
I. And so, at what point did you think careereven if you didnt have that word?
1. I started at temporary agencies, temporary agencies
2. because I didnt have the skills.. .1 didnt have the knowledge.. .1 didnt have
3. that I needed to get a career
4. so anything that came up I did to pay the bills
The respondent indicates an understanding of the relation ship between skills,
knowledge, education, and career. Because she didnt have those, she feels she must
do whatever work she can get to pay the bills.
I. Uhhum, you were on your own?
1. Uhuh, then just living day by day
2. $30 a day that they give you at Standby.. .and thats what I lived on
3. And I dont want that
4. I want a career because now I have a responsibility.
There is an abbreviated version of what Mishler (1995) refers to as a
transformation tale in Stanzas 13 and 14. The respondent has realized that she needs
a careerwhich necessitates getting skills, knowledge, education-- because she
now has the responsibility of caring for her young child.
I.... And you mentioned earlier, which I think is really good, you talked about the
difference between a job and a career. Now when did you realize there was a
difference between die two first of all?
1. Uh, 1 realized the difference.. .when I got an internship at ABC (a financial
planning company) cause I started as an intern and um...
2. And um, I just realized in the company, I mean, what the people were doing
3. and how many different jobs there were in just one company
4. So then thats when I decided thats what I wanted to doto be in financial
services. I know I like numbers and I like money.
The respondent who, in Stanza 10, wishes her parents would have talked to her
more about work, tells in this stanza how she began to develop an idea of what kind
of work she would enjoy doing. The respondent discloses that she got the internship
through a School-to-Work program at her school and that, at first, her interest in the
(paid) internship was just all about the money. An attitude shift is reflected in this
stanza when compared to Stanzas 5 and 11. The respondents early socialization
about working just for the money has been altered by a new level of socialization
through her internship in which she becomes aware of the possibility of working at
something she enjoys.
. I. Uhuh. So what was the turning point for you?
1. Um, when I came here. When I came to Colorado.. .1 left (another state) with
the mind of cornin hare and getting a job and keeping it
2. That was my first thing.
3. I was gonna get me a place and I was not gonna get evicted from it.
4. That was my next thing.
The respondent states that her work experience is limited to a few low skilled
jobs such as fast food that she did not like. She also makes a reference to eviction in
Line 3 that echoes and earlier remark about her mother working to keep from
getting kicked out. These references indicate a possible lack of stability in her past
caused by lack of money. Like some of the other respondents, she wants stability in
her life and sees getting and keeping a job as a way of achieving that.
I. Well first of all, have you moved from a job mentality to a career mentality?
I. And what does that mean to you?
1. Um, Im looking forward to working in financial services, whatever it might be,
loan officer or whatever.
2. I would like, after this, you, know, to get more accounting classes, whatever I
might need to move up in the financial service business.
3. Ive been a cash handler for most of my life in my jobs and, um, working with
people, I like to do that
4. and so I think I want for it to be my career.
Like the respondent in Stanza 13, the respondent in this stanza indicates an
understanding of the relationship between education, skills, and career. She seems
goal oriented and displays a confidence in her ability to achieve career goals whereas
in other portions of her discourse, these qualities seem to be lackingStanza 40. hi
Stanzas 16 and 17, the respondent has made a decision to pursue a career. In Stanza
17, she shows that she is beginning to develop a professional identity.
Strophe 2. Difficulty on the Job
I. Now what about, what, as you thought about work, what did you dread?
1. The.. .the beginning. The far as like, I know Im smarter that this.
2. And its like, when you start out, basically, you gotta start at the bottom. You
know, so if you start at the bottom, I can understand that, you know, you
gotta show em that you understand.
3. Cause, atfirst, you just like, another person.. .you not really a person. You
just somebody doing the job. And it takes a while for people to understand
and to see you talent in you, you know what Im sayin?
4. Cause, far as, like, all my jobs and stufflike that, its always that initial
hump I had to get over.
The respondent, who seems to demonstrate a pride in achievement and
confidence her in individual ability, here talks about the difficulty of starting a new
job because you not really a person until people realize you have talent. She also
expresses frustration that starting at the bottom does not allow her to use the skills
and intelligence she has. She seems to feel undervalued and feels she has more to
contribute that she is allowed at the start of a new job. The theme of lack of respect
and dehumanization on the job (you not really a person) is reiterated by other
respondents and will be discussed at greater length later in the analysis.
1. But after that, then I exceeded in everything.
2. Every job I had I became the leader in my, in my department whether it was
fryin chicken or, you know, far as being at the cash register, I was the best.
3. And I was the one that was gonna be the leader eventually.
4. It was just that first month, month and a half, where you had.. .they had to
learn you, you know what Im sayin? And understand what your talents
were and, you know, where your strengths were at.
In Stanza 19, the respondent continues her story from Stanza 18. Once she gets
through the initial employment phase, she feels she is able to demonstrate her value
to the organization. As in Stanza 18 and in Stanza 9, it is apparent that achievement
and acknowledgment are important to her.
1. Like when I started at ABC Bank, they threw me a book
2. She goes, Read through this book.
3. I said okay. I told her, Ill read the book.
4. So I sat there for about an hour, 45 minutes, read through the book, read the
most important thing that was going to happen to me that day. That they
were going to put me on the (teller) line, with the traishe was going to be
with me trainingbut they were putting me by myself.
1. And then, urn, I asked questions
2. I told her dont throw me the book
3. I need someone thats going to sit with me and if I have a question, theyre
going to answer it.
4. Not while Im on the line, before I get on the line. So I dont have to ask,
keep turning my back and say, Well, what do I do now? You know, and
interrupting customers, showing disrespect.
I. So that worked out? Did she...
1. Nope. She threw me on the line with somebody
2. and I kept having to excuse myself,
3. and to say, like, Im sony.
4. Im in training right now and can you bear with me?
Mishler (1995) refers to a master narrative in which the rules and values of the
dominant culture are defined and to countemarratives that are a form of resistance to
the master narrative. In the power relations of the corporate world, these rales and
values can be enforced through policies and procedures. In Stanzas 20,21, and 22,
the respondent seems to be telling a countemarrative. The trainer tells the
respondent how training is done in ABC Bank. The respondents narrative reflects
her resistance to the throw me a book kind of training. She cooperates but also
makes it clear that she does not believe this is the best approach to trainingat least
not for her. She attempts to have her questions answered before she begins waiting
on customers so she can feel competent when she gets on the line. Her request is
ignored and she tells, in Stanza 22, how her apprehensiveness about asking questions
in front of customers is well grounded. Her attempt to avoid embarrassmentand a
feeling of powerlessnessis subverted by the authority of the trainer.
Respondent, whose work experience is limited, has said she did not like the
treatment she received on the job.
I. How did they treat you?
1. It was just, like when I worked at McDonalds, um, the manager she was just
like on my back, on my back, you know three minutes, three minutes"
2. and, you know, one day a shopper came through and I didnt ask her
anything that I was supposed to.
3. And she got mad and just went to the back of the store and was like I cant
believe this. And banged on the door
4. and I was like Wait a minute now. This is not that serious.
Stanza 23, like Stanzas 20 through 22, is a narrative about power relations.
The three minutes reference is, I assume, a store or corporate policy that stipulates
a transaction should be completed in less than three minutes. The comment in Line 2
that the respondent didnt ask the shopper anything she was supposed to further
indicates that store or corporate policy dictated specific scripted way in which
employees were to interact with customers. The respondent indicates her resistance
to the policies and to the store managers manner of enforcing the policies. The
respondent makes it clear that she does not see the value of the policies nor does she
understand the managers attitudeThis is not that serious.
A two-level power relations struggle is described in this stanza. From her
position of resistance to the managers authority, the respondent cannot see that the
managers reaction to the shopper incident most likely arises from the fact that the
managers position in the corporate hierarchy is not a position of power.
The respondent perceives herself as undervalued and her job as menial which may be
a fair assessment. This point of view is reiterated elsewhere in her interview as the
respondent discusses punctuality as an area she needs to improve upon. She states
that she used to be late to her job at McDonalds fairly often but doesnt think it will
be a problem when she is in a more career oriented positionStanza 28.
Strophe 3. Strengths on the Job
I. As you think about your first jobs, like first job after you get out of here and on up
the road, what strengths do you bring? What do you have to offer whenever youre
1. Umm, I think for myself I would have to say...
2. I think Id be very dependable or reliable.
3. I think, if I were given a task to do, Im always going to do it beyond
4. Because, I dont know, thats just how I am. Im always going to do it beyond
The tone of the discussion seems to change with this question. Prior questions
centered on perceptions of work and career, and the influence of family and school.
Here the question is typical of a job interview. The respondent seems to shift her
tone in response.
Her answer sounds-somewhat rehearsed. Possibly, this indicates the respondent
perceives a shift in the power relations of interviewer-respondent.
I. Well, what are your strengths? What do you have to offer in an employment
1. Um, I, um, am a very enthusiastic person.
2. I love to see smiles walking out the door of the place that I work in.
3. I love it when somebody comes in, they might be a little down, and I might
say something they can laugh at something.
4. I would like them to know that Im gonna always be smiling when I come in
the door until I leave. Im gonna always be smiling, even if Im sick.
I. Now, what strengths do you bring to a job?
1. Oh.. .1 think my smile, (laughs) I bring my smile.
2. Im-friendly. Thats one of my strengths is that Im friendly.
3. Im not an attitude person. You give me attitude and Im gonna ask you
whats your attitude...
4. Whats your problem, you got issues today? Im hearing.. .and see if I can
bring that out of them, and if I can help them with that, and if I cant.. .Ill
refer you to somebody who can help.
Like the response in Stanza 24, the respondents seem to answer from a job
interview perspective. Allen (2004) discusses how social constructed gender roles
can lead to the gendering of jobs. In stanzas 25 and 26, the respondents answers are
quite similar and depict the dominant culture perception of women as nurturing and
expressive. Respondent R-B disclosed elsewhere in her narrative (Stanza 3) that she
wants to be a teller based on her childhood experience with tellers who were on
were nice and smelled nice. These two stanzas may be an example of how the
socialization of girls influences job choice and their perceptions of what strengths an
employer will desirable.
Strophe 4. Areas for Development on the Job
I. And what do you think you will need to work on when it comes to job, career and
that kind of thing, is there anything you...
1. Probably what I would have to work on is.. .the training
2. Id like to have more training.
3. Not just throw me a book. Dont throw me a book
4. Cause Im gonna look through that book and Ill try to do it but I want to do it
the right way.
This reinforces Stanzas 20 and 21 in which this respondent talks about her
experience at a new job. The respondent discloses elsewhere in her interview that
she dropped out of school in the 8th grade because she was more interested in being
with friends than in attending school. The book references may also apply to her
feelings about school. She seems to have an understanding, both in this stanza and in
Stanzas 20 and 21, that reading books does not suit her learning style. She expresses
frustration that institutions do not meet her individual needs.
I. Uhhum. Well now, what do you think you need to improve upon when it comes to
work, if anything?
As follow-up to the respondents statement that punctuality has been a problem for
her in the past,
1. I really dont believe that I will do that (be late). Im not looking forward to
even having to do that.
2. I, I just dont, like, especially in having a career. Its different to me than
working at McDonalds.
3. Theres no way I want my boss to see me cornin in late.
The respondents answer indicates that she perceives different levels of personal
responsibility in a job and in a career. She states that being late to work at
McDonalds is different from being late at a career job. She disclosed in Stanza 23
that she felt she was not treated well at McDonaldsthe manager was on her
back. She does not show an indication that she understands there may have been a
relationship between being late and having the manager on her back or that being
late is not acceptable in the dominant business world. Her statements in this stanza
show a desire to be on time but not a commitment to be on time.
Strophe 5. Pride in Work
I... .what did you look forward to or do you look forward to when you think about
work and career?
1. Makin money. Money is it.
2. And just, well, having a pride for what I do, basically.. .you know.
3. I dont wanna be like, yeah, I just do this.
4. I wanna be like, yeah, I am an accountant and I do understand my job and I
am the best at my job.
As indicated in Stanzas 8 and 19, money and accomplishment are primary
motivators for this respondent.
Part Three: Children
Strophe 1. Parents Vision for their Children in the Future
I. Now you think about your life and then think about um, for your daughter,
what do you plan to do.. .to help her...?
1. Um, Ill be,.. .Ill work more on her self esteem. Thats what Ill do, see
2. because my mom didnt
3. I had to create my own self esteem. I had to learn who I am and learn what
Im good at and learn how, you know, basically, how to love myself
4. so I would instill that in her now.
1. Always talk positive, you know what Im sayin? Dont ever say, Girl, you
cant do that.
2. I dont care what she do.
3. Somethin positive. Not no, no."
4. I want her to have such a high self confidence to where, no matter what
anybody says to her, shell know that shes okay.
This respondent seems to have self esteem and confidence in her abilities. As
indicated in Stanza 8 and 9, she had some strong role models and mentors outside
her family. Stanza 30, Line 3 and Stanza 31, Line 4 indicate that this respondent
struggled with the issue of self esteem, realizes how important it is to success and
believes that self esteem is a key quality to her daughters happiness and success. It
would appear that, in spite of the strong role models this respondent had, her
mothers lack of positive reinforcement of her self esteem was hurtful to her and that
she learned about parent-child interaction from her experience. The respondents
observation that her mother didnt build her self esteem when she was a child could
also be considered resistance talk against parental authority.
I. And so what other things do you plan to do with her in addition to her seeing what
youre doing (going to school) because thats invaluable. But what do you plan to do
with her, especially if you think about what happened or didnt happen for you?
What are you planning for her?
1. Well.. .1 think what I want her to see is that to be her own little person, you
2. and not to put people down because of her dad, hes one of them people that
3. And I see her coming home (from dads house) with this ugly attitude, and
its What did mommy teach you? Be a good girl, be nice. Thank you.
4. And I see for her, is that I want for her to be a professional woman when she
This respondent has repeated themes of individuality throughout her discourse.
In Stanza 12, she talks about a career as involving you own individual space,.. .you
own individual thing that you do. She also shows resistance to the throw me a
book training as not individualized to her learning style. Here, she states she wants
her daughter to be her own little person and also a professional woman. The
themes of individuality and career seem to have an important connection for her.
I. Okay. Um, what do you imagine doing with your daughter relating to this whole
issue of work, career, and so forth?
1. I think I just wanna get her in a lot of activities and see where she, what she
2. I want her to make up her own mind what she wants to do.
3. Yeah, I want her to know, do all kinds of things and encourage her and see,
so I mean it feels like shes smart and 1 can bring out the best she has.
4. I dont want her to have a job just to pay the bills. I want her to be happy and
do what she likes.
The issues of choice and doing something you want to do are important to this
respondent. In earlier Stanzas 5,6 and 11, this student spoke about her parents and
her auntie doing jobs they did not necessarily want to do just to pay the bills. Here
she states she wants her daughter to something she likes. And she wants her daughter
to be in a lot of activities so she can explore options.
The issue of choice is raised elsewhere in the students narrative when she talks
about the fact that her mother made her play a different musical instrument than she
wanted. She said she ended up hating playing the instrument and regrets her mother
did not let her play the instrument she wanted to play.
Strophe 2. Childrens' Impact on Parents Attitude
1. Before I had my daughter, I didnt have no ambition
2. My ambition was, oh, whats the next happy hour? You know.
3. That was my ambition, you know.
4. And then before I had my daughter, I didnt have no goals.
I. Hmm, Just kind of floating?
1. Yeah, just livin day by day.
2. Then... after I had my daughter, thats when I really looked up and realized,
3. hey, you have a responsibility. You need a career
4. You know, you need something thats gonna be stable that you can like to do,
to support her
1. You know, my generation, the whole generation, are alcoholics
2. And Im breaking that chain.
3.1 do not want my daughter to be an alcoholic.. .or to see her mother be an
4. Thats why I stopped drinking.
Stanzas 34 through 36 represent a short transformation tale. The respondent
gives her daughter credit for changing her life, giving her ambition, leading her
to choose a career instead of living day by day, and leading her to break the
chain of alcoholism.
I. Can you think of anything else related to anything weve talked about that
youd like to share with me...?
1. Um, I think, um kids, or well, my daughter, in my case, is a good inspiration
to have a job
2. cause if I didnt have my daughter, ooh, I wouldnt be worried about getting
no job. I wouldnt worry about no career or nothin.
3. I would probably be doin drugs and partying and everything under the sun.
4. But yeah, I have to think about my daughter. So I think thats my biggest
Stanza 37 is also a transformation tale in which the respondent redefines herself
as a result of becoming a mother. This is apparently a revelation that is important to
the student. The interviewer did not specifically ask about this issue. Yet the
respondent felt it was a part of her identity she wanted to be known. Mishlers
(1995) concept of the telling in the told is strongly represented in the respondents
inclusion of this stanza in her narrative.
Respondent has disclosed that as a young child, she wanted to be a police officer.
I. Okay, so then as you grew older, did that idea of being a police officer, did you
still have it?
1. Um, as I grew older, I mean I was 13 when I got pregnant and I was 14 when
I had him so after that, I kind of lost all dreams that I had because of that.
2. And I really didnt talk to nobody about it. I just tried to make right you
know. I had a baby and so what? I dont care.
3. Instead of saying, Where do I go from here?, you know, instead I was feelin
like I just messed it all up for any dreams that I had. I did.
4. And I just (recently) got back on track with it. (Respondent is 25 years old at
time of interview.)
The other respondents narratives reflect positive and/or transformational views
on the affect of their children on their own lives. In contrast, this respondent seems
to feel that becoming a mother at such an early age has had an adverse affect on her
career and educational development. Elsewhere in her interview, she expresses
regrets at becoming a mother at such an early age. While she does express that she is
proud of her children and hopes they go to college, she states she feels she could be
way further now if she hadnt had children and dropped out of high school.
The respondents comments in Line 2 seem to be a show of resistance. A
pregnancy at age 13 most likely brought with it social stigma and disapproval from
authority figures. She makes comments elsewhere in her narrative that hint at family
disapproval and lack of support at school, which resulted in her dropping out. In
lines 1 and 3, the respondent refers to lost dreams. One thing that might convince a
young girl that she has lost her dreams might be the people around her sending the
message that she has ruined her life by becoming a teen mom. This could create a
socially constructed idea in her mind that her dreams are lost.
Welfare statistics indicate that mothers who have dropped out of school
constitute a group that is likely to remain on welfare longer. On the surface, these
statistics would indicate lack of skills and education as a primary barrier to obtaining
and retaining employment. Another explanation, in some cases, might be social
stigma and a sense of powerlessness. In line 4, she states she has only recently
gotten back on track with making career plans some eleven years after the birth of
her first child.
Exploring the attitudes and feelings of women who became mothers and dropped
out of school, particularly women who became mothers at a very early age, might be
an area for further research. A recent study on childbirth in Colorado does not even
list an age category below 15 years of age (Urban Institute, 2003), so perhaps this is
an overlooked group of parents.
Focus Group #1
Focus Group #1, consists of Janet, Angela, and Sandra (pseudonyms). None
of them was working at the time of the interview. Janet completed the business
services program and began another training program a few months later. She was
scheduled to finish that program a week after the focus group. Angela did not
complete one of the classes needed for her business services certificate when she
originally participated in the program. She recently went back to Community
College of Denver and took the class so she could earn her certificate. She
completed that in December 2003 and has been looking for a job. Sandra had been
employed for several months and was laid off. She has worked a few part-time retail
jobs but has been unable to find full-time work. Janet and Angela completed their
GEDs while they were in the CCD program.
I began by asking them to introduce themselves and talk about their favorite
and least favorite jobs:
Janet: My favorite job was working at the---. And my least favorite, I dont think I
have one cause that was kind of my first (job.)... It was a great job but I wanted to
finish school. So I decided to leave that job. And I really didnt have anybody tell
me to finish school.
Sandra: I think the best job Ive had was when I started as an intern at bank.
Whyd I like it? I liked it because they respected me as an individual. They didnt
judge us. And the job I liked least was at--company. It paid better.. ..It didnt
really have as much to do with the (business) field.
Angela: Least favorite job, McDonalds. I was only there, not too long. But they
didnt pay well. And my favorite job was at, working for banks. Re-doing work
for them. I didnt have to deal with too many people. Cause we just did phone
work so it was all just over the phone.
When asked about impressions of work as they were growing up, this group
gave responses similar to interviewees in focus group #2 and the individual
Janet: I mean, my dad worked but I didnt think of it as anything fun for him or as a
career either. So I didnt think much just that he had to go to work everyday to
support the family.
Sandra: My meaning of work wasnt a good thing cause it seemed like my mom
was always tired. But she had to always make time for us. I guess my meaning of
work was always bad, until I realized it was a must in life.
Angela:.. .you had to get up and go to work to pay the bills and that was it.
This groups parents seemed to talk more about what they did at work than
was expressed by the interviewees in focus group #2 and the individual interviews:
Sandra: My mom used to talk about it a lot with us.. ..she used to tell us .. .Im doing
data entry for this and then she had to explain to us what data entry was, so we
wouldnt be lost.
Janet: My dad did explain also. He was a , so he said what he had to do.
Angela: Yeah, my dad used to tell us when we grew up wed have to work and finish
school and he tell us what he did at his job. Hes been on his for a while, almost
thirty years. So hed come home and tell us what he did and what it started out as.
None of the group members felt they had anyone other than family, such as
school staff, who ever talked to them about career and work until they came to the
Workplace Learning Project.
Sandra: I think you guys helped me a lot.... I mean, I think you guys help me a lot
with a lot of things and I mean even being able to still call you and say, hey Marsha,
this is going on and Im trying to figure out this.
Angela: I think I really didnt have family push towards or tell me anything about
career until I came here.
When asked about the difference between work and career and when they
realized what the difference was:
Janet: I think a career and a job, the difference you feel more professional with the
career, more education and I guess you feel good about yourself, that youre in a
high level job.
Angela: To me a job is something you just take for the money. Career is something
you want to do, enjoy doing. If it was just a job, I wouldnt go to work. I just start
calling in. A career is something you like and youre going to stick with and like
I asked if their attitudes about work and career have changed:
Angela: When I was younger I didnt really care but now that I have children, I do
everything for them not just for myself.
Janet: I think having an education, then you get treated more, I mean, they give you
more attention that you did finish school and youre trying to do better for them
(children) and yourself.
Sandra: I say yes and I agree with what she just said. Because a kid, you cant force
a kid to go out and say go to school and graduate and do this. If you dont really do
it you cant be a hypocrite, you gotta practice what you preach.
When I ask if they talk to their children about work, they say they do:
Sandra: I talk to my son about it all the time, about jobs. And my daughter, she sees
more females.. .and my moms around.. .and my moms a supervisor ( and has an
identification badge). And my daughter wants, like a badge and stuff.
Angela: Yeah, my son will be out a Wal-Mart. He says, I want to work here at Wal-
Mart. And Im like you gotta go to college and get a good job. Hes like no I want
to work at Wal-Mart. Im like no you dont. Or McDonalds, well Im like you got
to get a good education so you can get a good job that pays more money. And I
explain that, that doesnt pay that much money. Its funny.
Next I asked the groups opinion of past employers:
Sandra: Im gonna say I like my employer, Dave (pseudonym) most out of any
employer Ive had in life. He was like, he was like, the sweetest guy. He was like,
really understanding like, you know. But he was good. He was a good person not
only was he nice, hes just. He gave me constructive criticism. Like if there was
something wrong, well, Sandra, youre doing good on this but I need you to do this
and it wasnt what you say, it was how you say it. Hes always been like he was
Marsha: What about other employers?
Sandra got hired where she did her internship with Dave as her supervisor.
Because she had started as an intern, she was considered a temporary employee.
This meant she was at a lower level of pay than a permanent employee would be in
the same position and she wasnt eligible for benefits. She had to work there a year
before she could become permanent. She was upset about this and when another
opportunity came, she took it. She was laid off six months later.
Sandra: I didnt like my employers at the company. I mean they were rude. Their
mouth was like completely different. It was, like, a job. Have you ever had a job
that youre kind of putting up with, something that you wouldnt put up with? Its
like you went to school to better yourself and now youre like, okay, Im sitting here
listening to a boss thats rude and just didnt know how to talk to me or whatever
else. And from day one I kind of felt that it was going to be jumpy, but at the same
time it was a better pay. And thats why it made me open my eyes to the difference
between a job and a career. Because I think right now if I would have stayed I
would have really started a career because everybody moved up in our department.
And I even moved up when I was there.
Marsha: So it was the dollar signs thing that made you (change jobs)?
Sandra: It was like, well kind of getting big headed at the same time. Like theyre
gonna pay me what Im worth, not realizing that everybody has to start from
somewhere and going from $8.50 to $9.50 and then going to $15.00 on hour. Was
like made me feel like, yeah, that and $15.00 was good, but then a the same time it
didnt last for anything but maybe six months, so. Cant just accept something just
for the money. You gotta learn about it and ask a lot of questions like that. And ask
way more questions than what they be handing you out, cause everybody wants to
Janet: I enjoyed my employers...cause there were times that they should have let me
go and they didnt and thought of another way to help me. Well cause I was calling
in having problems and she, its my ride situation, and so she would come pick me
up. They went out of their way to help me stay with them.
I asked them to think about things they think employers could do differently
that would help them as single mothers and workers. They moved off in another
direction, talking about the difficulty of getting a job when you lack experience.
Only one addressed the question:
Angela: Every place should be more understanding that you have a life also,
children. Some, you know, dont have children at all and they dont know what you
go through. So I think we should be a little bit more lenient in terms or, instead of
letting you go as soon as you start having problems, they see it coming.
Because I had gotten the sense from the individual interviews that some of
those interviewed felt they were not treated as individuals, I asked about this:
like just a slave. I pay you and youre jus gonna so what I tell you to do. Its not
like I respect you, because basically. You know teamwork all that stuff you guys
was teaching us. Teamwork and how to respect your peers and stuff.... I think
about that when I go to a job and see that theres eight people that dont respect you
for that just because theyre supervisors or theyre head leads. They dont recognize
you for the individual you are. They just recognize you for Im paying you, youre
just going to do it and thats all.
I asked about external factors that have caused difficulties on the job. Sandra
has had major issues with child care in the last several months that illustrate how an
institutional factor can interfere with workor, in her case, finding work. A bit of
background on the rules and bureaucracy she has bumped up against will help to
Sandra was living in Denver. Her TANF had been closed because she made
too much money but she was still receiving childcare assistance. Sandra had been on
a waiting list for subsidized housing in another county. She became eligible for a
subsidized apartment in the other county and moved. About the same time, she was
laid off. The county she moved to has a waiting list for child care assistance. Sandra
found herself unemployed with no money to pay for child care so that she could
search for a new job. The county gives thirty days of childcare for job search. If you
do not have a job by then, you lose you childcare assistance and have to get back on
the waiting list.
Sandra: I was I think, like my childcare, sometimes youre trying to get your
childcare and like if you dont have a job and childcare is very expensive so you
basically, you do have to end up trying to put in for low-income childcare. And a
jobs not really going to understand that about low-income childcare they dont
really want to know about all that. They just want to know when can you start. So I
thing externally, like, Ill try to make sure I have my kids in daycare first and then I
try to make sure that the job comes through a little bit afterwards. Hopefully I can
get someone that works around the schedule of my kids. With Social Services they
give you like a thirty day grace period and they tell you that thats how much time
you have to find a job so you have to push, you literally have to push and you have
to make sure you find something and so thats why a lot of times people wont admit
it but thats why they accept anything. If they accept anything cause they have no
choice at that point in time and they know this is something they need and they know
that theyll lose that childcare. If they dont have a job at this point in time, so like
now I told my mom Ill accept anything cause I dont want to lose my childcare.
And my moms like, dont do stuff for all the wrong reasons. She was like, just take
your time. You got a car note, you got insurance and kids needs and, of course, you
have rent. Your public service went up. You have all your necessities and
everything else. I mean you have to work theres not just, oh take your time, its
like, I have to work.
Facilitator: And thirty days isnt a very long time to find a decent job.
Sandra: At all, but you cant tell them that.... They dontrespect you either
because they want you to send in them all of your information and then theyll put
you on their time. So when push comes to shove theyll say you didnt send this in
and you gotta say, well heres the copy and I had to start giving them copies of
signatures to make sure. I know where you turned this in on this day, so its like
thats another thing that people not respecting you as an individual that you are. Just
basically treating you like you are nobody. But to me, I think everybody needs help
no matter if its childcare or gas or anything.
Janet: The childcare issue for me as well, also. But I (am lucky) cause I have my
mom. If my daughter gets sick then shell go to her cause I just cant let her stay
with anybody in my family, just the only person in my family that I really trust is my
mom. And I really think about just leaving her with anybody. You know the things
that happen nowadays.
I had finished my list of questions so I asked if there is anything anyone
wants to add.
Sandra: I just want to say thank you. Thats why Im here today, because youve
always been real supportive towards me. I wanted to make sure I was supportive
Focus Group #2
Focus Group #2, consists of Marilyn, Bonnie, Amanda, and Susan (all
pseudonyms). All four are currently working and have been with their current
employer from one year to over three years. I began the focus group discussion by
asking them each to describe their current job. Everyone described their current jobs
in terms of a fairly straightforward list of duties.
As the discussion proceeded, it became apparent that three of them
Marilyn, Amanda, and Susan are satisfied with their current jobs, which are at
small companies or non-profit organizations. The fourth, Bonnie, who works for a
large corporation, is experiencing difficulty at her job and is unhappy with her
situation. The contrast between the three who like their jobs and Bonniewho does
not like her jobsets the framework for much of the discussion about jobs, careers,
and employer relations.
This group had much die same response as the narrative group and focus
group #1 to the question about childhood impressions of work. All had parents who
worked except for one person who said her dad always worked but her mom stayed
home. Even though they knew, vaguely, what their parents jobs were and a few
said that, as children, they had gone with a parent to work, they did not have a clear
understanding of actual job duties for the most part. The themes of having to work
to pay the bills came up again with this group:
Marilyn: My impression was to work when you grow up. Youre going to work the
rest of your life. That is it. To pay the bills.... Theyve (parents) always taught me
to keep a job and to do what I got to do so I can survive, cause this world is very
Bonnie: All I know is my dad made it seem like I never had to worry about anything.
Thats what he told me so its really hard for me to have an impression.
Many study participants said their parents and other family members talked
to them about the importance of staying in school and getting an education so they
could get a good job. But none of die participants said their parents or other family
members talked to them about the relationship between education and meaningful
work. And none of the participants said their parents or other family members talked
to them about what a career was.
Bonnie: The only thing, my grandpa, he was very, very insistent on your education.
That was all I ever heard. I never really heard why, you know what I mean?
Other avenues to learn about work and career, for instance, school or
mentors, did not seem noteworthy as group members were growing up. In the group
Allen interviewed, two people had experience with school-to-work or other
mentoring programs that seemed to be meaningful and helpful to them. This group
did not seem to have experiences like that although some said they have mentors
now, as adults. Here is one response when I asked whether anyone, in school or
elsewhere in the community, talked to them about career and work.
Susan: No, not really. I had to find out the hard way.
Bonnie said she does not remember hearing anything about career planning
during high school.
I believe knowing the difference between work and career is an important
aspect of career planning. Group members expressed the idea that work is just
work and that a career is long term and something you want to do.
Susan: I think work is just something you go to every day. You know, you just go to
the job, but a career is when you really focus on trying to succeed and get better at it.
As the discussion continues, other ways of defining what distinguishes career
from just a job emerge that reveal a deeper understanding than group members
initial answers would indicate. Some of these aspects of career echo what we have
heard from Allens interviews and from Focus Group #1. These include 1) doing
work you enjoy, 2) opportunities for advancement, 3) the link between education and
career advancement, 4) respect as an individual.
Amanda relates that she thought she had found a career at a previous job.
When she started, she liked the people, felt she could leam something of value, and
thought of the position as long term. Later, she changed her mind because she felt
she was not doing the job she thought she was hired to do and because of difficulties
with her boss.
Amanda: It toned into just a little job. Im going to just come in here and do my
thing and go home, and know that Im going to pay the bills.
She goes on to say of the company she works for now:
Amanda:.. .1 would love to stay there for a very long time. Its something I like
doing. And its not just one specified job. Theres room for any advancement that
you possibly could have.
In the first statement, the tie between just a job and pay the bills surfaces
again. Interestingly, no one in this group mentioned income in describing career. In
the second statement, a new point about career appearsthe concept of
advancement. Susan comments that she sees herself staying where she is for a long
time and maybe be in charge.. .one day.
As the discussion continues around the question of how group members
feel about their current employer, a number of issues about differences in how
employers relate to employees come to light:
Susan: I think, for me, everybody I work with, the company is so small and family
oriented that, you know, you want to stay there.
Amanda: The one thing about my employer now, they encourage, like, whatever you
want to do, they try to help you. Versus, there were times in my (previous job) when
my daughter was sick and the job I had, I would feel so guilty. One time I went to a
funeral and Hispanics funerals are forever, you know. And you just cant tell your
employer, you know, it starts at ten and Ill be back around twelve, cause that never
happens. Then theres the food and you just dont want to be, well sorry for your
loss and go. And actually I called to let her know and she just did not believe that
the funeral lasted that long.
Marilyn: My job that I have right now, its awesome. Its the best job Ive had.
This is the job I prayed for, you know. Theyre very understanding.
Bonnie: My current employer.. .They havent really (been understanding). I think
ultimately they only care about the job. Youre supposed to be there and thats it.
These comments link back to comments in Allens interviews about the
difference between being an individual and being treated like you not really a
person. The first three comments indicate that these women feel good about their
relationships at work while the fourth implies a sense of objectification of workers.
The person-as-object image shows a troubling placement of people in relation to the
market, economy, business and society in general (Cheney & Carroll, 1997.) I
believe the difference in treatment of employees described in the above statements is
another aspect of career versus job. Although the group members didnt verbalize
this when asked about career versus job, further discussion indicates they understand
the importance of how an individual feels about her relationships in the work
The discussion about employer treatment leads to a more in-depth
conversation about being a single working mother. Bonnie relates a recent .
experience. A few weeks before the focus group met, she had to call in sick for four
days because her children were sick. When she returned to work, her boss
Bonnie: She (her boss) said if I didnt improve my attendance that she would have to
do disciplinary and so, like, whatever. Its just, what am I supposed to do? I had the
(sick) time. I earned the time.
Marilyn: Its the law. They have to give it to you.... Whether they complain and
gripe and groan or whatever. They have to give it to you.
Bonnie: .. .1 talked to a couple of people, basically they can fire me for it.
The experience with sick children served to further alienate this woman from
her job and to further make her feel she is not a person. She indicates that she would
like to have confronted the unfairness of the situation but didnt. She wants to resist
what she sees as a form of bureaucratic control (Allen, 2004) in which her boss
who does not have childrenis threatening her ability to support her children. She
is fearful of losing her job.
The issue of sick children is a major one for working single parents.
Childcare centers do not accept sick children. Sick child care is very limited and
very costly. This leaves parents in the position of either taking time off or trying to
find a family member or friend to care for the children. I think its natural that a
parent wants to care for a sick child him or herself, and he or she also may not want
to burden others by asking them to care for a sick child. As indicated in Holzer &
Wissoker (2001), childcare is the number one reason for absenteeism (64%). The
study shows a high incidence of absenteeism due to physical health as well (34%). If
their figures are based only on the number of times a worker calls in sick, it most
likely reflects sick children, not just sick workers.
Susan: Its hard when you work for a job that your boss doesnt have kids, and
theyre really not sensitive to your needs.. ..But a lot of people wont watch sick
kids.... And again, thats why my job is very sensitive in that area (children).
Because my director.. .was a single parent s he knows exactly what its like to have
Amanda:.. .when it comes to my children, Ive had to tell her, you know, I dont
know what to do and my child is sick. And she said, well one of two things, you can
stay home and get her better or you can come here (and bring her child).
Next, I asked the group, from a single working mothers perspective, what
employers could do to help them succeed on the job. Bonnie said she feels
communication is lacking at her workplace.
Bonnie: I found out from other employees that if youre going to school. I dont
know if you have to be liked or you have to do the right thing or whatever. But
apparently its possible that if I were going to school, they would work with my
schedule or something.. ..But work is hard because I feel like Im there working and
I know they care about whether I meet my goals and thats all there is. But to help
me be successful would be wonderful, you know.
Again this woman is feeling like her employer only cares about her work
volume. And she feels she is not being informed about opportunities that may exist.
As a result, she feels like she is a disenfranchised outsider.
An important aspect of developing a work social identity is feeling that you
are a valued part of the organization. That is why new employees receive
orientations and training. The more an organization provides models, accepts and
respects newcomers values, and provides information regarding career paths within
the organization, the greater the newcomers perception of fit, worth, and work
attitudes. (Riordan, et.al., 2001) Bonnie has been employed a year and a half but
does not appear to have the benefit of any of these things.
Although other group members said they are happy with their jobs, they
agreed that better communication in the workplace is needed. Marilyn also stated
she feels employers need to have more resources for mothers, for fathers, for
anybody thats working in the company. The others agreed. What they mean by
resources is information for continuing education, for child care assistance,
counseling and other needs.
Two group members told about situations in which their bosses had helped
them with problems. One was a problem with social services and the other was a
problem with the school district. In each case, a phone call from the boss to
someone they knew helped solve the problems.
One group member said she often has to help clients find resources so she
created a resource book. She offered to help the other members with resource
Marilyn suggested workplaces need to have someone understanding to
discuss issues with employees:
Marilyn: At school, they have counselors.... They always tell you to leave your
problems at home or this or that. Sometimes its hard. You cant. Maybe take five
minutes out and talk to your boss or talk to a friend at work. People wouldnt be so
stressed out on their jobs, you know.
Bonnie: The fact is people are doing these jobs. And I think it should be mandatory
that they focus on the people. And also they need to be aware that they have lives or
that they want to have lives. I mean its hard, its stressful and they dont care.
The discussion shifts toward the subject of finances. Under the old system
before welfare reform, a woman might be better off financially staying on welfare