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Coping with stigma: A goal-directed perspective on self-regulation in social identity-threatening work and education fields

This dissertation examined the underrepresentation of certain groups in work and education fields, focusing on women in male-dominated fields (the police force, the military, and STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] fields) and first-generation students at university. It has long been clear that this underrepresentation cannot be fully accounted for by inherent lower abilities or interest among these groups, and that social psychological processes play a role too. Taking the perspective of minority groups, I examined the following broad research questions: How do members of underrepresented groups cope with the challenges they face in work and education fields? And how does this affect their outcomes in work and education? Although it has been acknowledged in the field for a while now that minority members actively cope with – rather than passively undergo – challenges they face, we are only beginning to understand how these coping processes work and the role they play in maintaining or challenging underrepresentation. The goal of this dissertation was to gain more insight into how these coping processes work by taking a goal-directed perspective on how minority members cope with threats to their belonging and achievement goals in work and education fields, focusing on two coping responses.

The first part of this dissertation focused on distancing from the domain in which belonging and achievement goals are threatened and moving to domains in which these goals are met more. Chapter 2 showed the key role that experienced difficulties with obtaining a sense of social belonging plays in the academic achievement gap between first- and continuing-generation students. Chapter 3 showed distancing from the work team as a way for female police officers to distance from the domain in which they experienced low belonging, and that this, in turn, is related to distancing from the field altogether. Chapter 4 showed that anticipating that belonging will be more difficult to obtain in certain STEM fields compared to others makes high school girls distance from these fields, and pulls girls towards other STEM fields in which they anticipate comparatively more belonging.

The second part of this dissertation focused on distancing from the ingroup to try and increase their sense of belonging and achievement within the domain. Chapters 5 and 6, using different methodologies and focusing on different minority groups (female soldiers and first-generation university students), both showed distancing from the ingroup in response to belonging concerns and not in response to achievement concerns. These findings indicate that self-group distancing occurs as a coping response in an effort to fit in the organization. Additionally, both chapters showed well-being costs of self-group distancing.

This dissertation showed that their quest for organizational belonging can lead minority members to distance from the domain and move to domains in which they expect more belonging or to distance from their ingroup within the domain. These coping responses have costs for the influx, retention, and upward mobility of minority groups, and hence maintain the underrepresentation of these groups in work and education fields.

Date:1 Oct 2014  →  Today
Keywords:self-regulation of stigma, contextual support, social inequality, well-being, motivation, and performance at school and work, individual and collective mobility, social identity-threat
Disciplines:Biological and physiological psychology, General psychology, Other psychology and cognitive sciences
Project type:PhD project