Modern Era and Today’s Women Visionaries

By Sarah Patterson-Mills

I hear my voice, I hear my voice, and it's been here
Silent all these years (Tori Amos, 1992)

Over the past 100 years, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) has become a global association and evolved career development approaches that extend the work of early female visionaries. Forty women have been elected as President of NCDA (or its predecessor, NVGA, the National Vocational Guidance Association), including Lakeisha Mathews, the 2022-2023 NCDA President, and NCDA President Elect, Carolyn Jones. Currently, membership constitutes 78% women, 21% men and less than 1% non-binary members (D. Pennington, personal communication, 3/20/2023).

In February 2020, the NCDA Board formulated a strategic planning process creating three priorities reflective of membership-informed core values (Pennington & Evans, 2019). The priorities included:

  1. Membership expansion across the globe
  2. Diversity and cultural inclusion
  3. Identity/community development

Comparatively, at the first National Vocational Guidance Association’s written proceedings in 1913, nearly identical themes were explored (Vocational Guidance Report, 2016). Vocational work and projects from the inaugural conference focused on social justice (Feller, 2014). These themes reverberate in the 2020 strategic plan with an added expansion on the global stage.

Highlighted in this series were the impact of women pioneers in the early 20th century during the Progressive Movement. Often absent from the literature, their research and advocacy for women and children, increased fair labor laws and employment practices (Abbott & Breckinridge, 1906; Abbott & Breckinridge, 1917; Reed, 1915), education equity (Abbott, E., & Breckinridge, S. P., 1917), and living wages (Beardsley Butler, 1909; Henry, 1915, Chapter 7, The Woman Organizer; Van Kleeck, 1917). But, the work did not stop here. Continued influence on the field carried on through many works by incredible women-too many to adequately do them justice in this space. From Anne Roe’s relational approach to career counseling beginning in the 1950’s, to Sunny Hansen’s Integrated Life Approach in the postmodern era introduced themes of spirituality and cosmic consciousness. The women that have contributed since the beginning continue to carry the torch.

The next sections illustrate how a few highlighted women carried on the work within the framework that the profession embraces through its current strategic goals. This is a nod to the progressive nature of the work by women from the beginning and demonstrates the ongoing foresight and perspective they bring to the field.

Bridging Progressive to Modern Counseling Era (1935-2000’s)

Heavy contributions by women after the Progressive Pioneers not only influenced change but changed and shaped the career development field. A long list of these names, with no other descriptors, would fill the space in this article. A select few have been noted here, yet understand this is a very small sample of the many women who helped shape the field.

Theme One: Global Influences

In 1942, Katharine Briggs began working on a psychological sorter. Later with the help of her daughter Isabel Briggs Myers, it evolved into the Myer’s Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI; The Myers-Briggs Company, n.d.), one of the most widely used and researched assessment instruments designed to help individuals understand themselves and their preferred personality function. International research has demonstrated that this instrument’s utility has global consequences and understanding (Uhl & Day, 1993; Zhang, 2021).

Hollingsworth’s work on gifted education, extending over 40 years in the early 20th century, examined contextual variables that correlated with higher intelligence, an advancement in thinking in that day. Instead of basing intelligence or performance on gender, she looked at several influences that were prior unstudied including family variables and their association with career choice among their children. She noted an emphasis on holistic assessment when understanding one’s ability to succeed in certain subject areas (Hollingworth & Hollingworth, 1916).

Theme Two: Diversity and Inclusion

Dr. Nancy Schlossberg was the first woman executive at the American Council of Education where she established the Office of Women in Higher Education (1973). This influential position opened the doors of higher education for more women and persons of color to serve in leadership positions with more women deans serving nationally. Second, it evened the playing field for women collegiate athletics by requiring equitable representation of women and men, and access to facilities to train across collegiate sports. This was discussed with a panel of first-generation women deans during Building Career Development Resiliency and Empowering Career Decision-Making Among Marginalized Populations (Patterson-Mills & Sartorious, 2022). Schlossberg was credited with being one of the first champions in higher education access and the placement of women and persons of color in administrative roles.

In fact, Schlossberg’s theory on adult transitions in the workplace was one of the first of career theories to address life cycle changes. Her theory used systemic post-modern thinking by addressing inter and intra-personal factors such as interactions in and among individuals, relationships and society, and their impact on work and life. This was a departure from the traditional career theories that tended to focus on a linear life path who do not always fit with women and minorities missing the same accessibility to education, career, and often experience interrupted work patterns. The ability to pivot and opt out of the workplace to care for family and friends continues to be a work/life theme today just as it was 100 years ago.

Dr. Janet Lenz’s research and insight has led to increased opportunities for women and minorities regarding access to education and work. Like other modern pioneers like Schlossberg and Harris-Bowlsbey, Lenz is also a past NCDA president and Eminent Career award winner. Currently in her role as senior researcher and associate faculty member at Florida State University, Dr. Lenz and her team have identified the power of environmental reinforcers on one’s career self-efficacy and the readiness to contemplate career choices.

Dr. Lenz’s work on the impact of negative thoughts regarding education, career, and one’s self-efficacy has widened intervention options for career practitioners. At the same time, it has challenged self and systemic barriers to trying out new careers (Sampson et al., 2011). More recently, Dr. Lenz has recommended mindfulness techniques to minimize negative thoughts as they relate to self-efficacy (Galles et al., 2019). This theory evens the playing field because it empowers all individuals to set goals that they may have thought were out of reach because of low self-efficacy.

Theme Three: Collective Identity and Community Development

Dr. Joann Harris-Bowlsbey is another pioneer and an internationally recognized authority in the development of career information systems. Having led the development of the computer-based system DISCOVER, she was widely published in academic journals and texts. Harris-Bowlsbey shared how she gained her voice in the field: “I imagined how mainframe computers could assist assessment and occupational and postsecondary education exploration. Donald E. Super, doing similar work with IBM invited me to meet with an eminent group discussing this technology” (Feller, 2018, para. 3). She went on to author one of the first technology-based delivery systems, the Computerized Vocational Information System. Her last project with Kuder, Inc. was the development of an extensive career guidance curriculum now used in schools in Rwanda. “As my career evolved and professionals and students/adults used the materials that I have developed, my confidence in myself and in my ability to produce useful materials grew.” (Feller, 2018, para. 9)

Future-Forward, the Feminist Voice is Here to Stay

Standing on the foundations of these women pioneers, career practitioners today can coach, advocate for access and opportunity on a large scale at the legislative level. As NCDA and its members actively engage with one another in an increasingly globalized world, valuing diversity while advocating for equity and inclusion through building community, partnership, and support is essential.

These values reinforce the legacy of career development women pioneers while aligning with today’s ethics and goals. It invites career practitioners to listen for the many voices who are instrumental in cultivating an inviting culture of career and life opportunities for all. Echoes from early female pioneers encourage challenging our own biases and those of our colleagues, to identify and fight for an equitable playing field, and to speak up about injustice when it is not being addressed. There is no more time for silence.

Istock 530686189 Credit Caiaimagesam Edwards

This is fourth in the series of herstorical  articles  (i.e., a history of pioneering women in the career development field written by a woman), designed to broaden and deepen our understanding of our professional roots. Read the first three articles in Career Convergence:

We All Want to Change the World: An Introduction to the Series, Early Women Pioneers in Career Development  (Patterson-Mills , 2021)

In the Trenches: Women Vocophers’ Contributions to the Career Development Field (Patterson-Mills, 2021).

Women Agents of Social and Political Change in Career Counseling History (Patterson-Mills, 2022)



Abbott, E., & Breckenridge, S. P. (1906). Employment of women in industries: Twelfth census statistic. Journal of Political Economy, 14(1), 14-40.  https://www.jstor.org/stable/1817279

Abbott, E., & Breckinridge, S. P. (1917). Truancy and non-attendance in the Chicago schools. The Mead Project.  

Butler, E. B.  (1909). Women and the trades, Pittsburgh 1907-1908. The Pittsburgh Survey Findings in Six Volumes. Russell Sage Foundation. http://www.russellsage.org/sites/all/files/Butler_Women_and_0.pdf

Feller, R. (2014). The first conference of the national vocational guidance association: Roots of the national career development association #2. Career Convergence. https://www.ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/70380/_PARENT/CC_layout_details/false

Feller, R. (2018). Later chapters with Dr. Joann Harris-Bowlsbey. Career Convergence. https://ncda.org/aws/NCDA/pt/sd/news_article/202995/_self/CC_layout_details/false

Galles, J., Lenz, J., Peterson, G. W., & Sampson, J. P., Jr. (2019). Mindfulness and decision-making style: Predicting career thoughts and vocational identity. Career Development Quarterly, 67(1), 77-91. https://doi.org/10.1002/cdq.12164

Henry, A. (1915). The trade union woman. https://tile.loc.gov/storage-services/service/rbc/rbnawsa/n4465/n4465.pdf

Hollingworth, H. L. & Hollingworth, L. S. (1916). Vocational psychology: its problems and methods. D. Appleton and Company. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/38962/38962-h/38962-h.htm

Patterson-Mills, S. & Sartoriuos, K. (2022). Building career development resiliency and empowering career decision-making among marginalized populations. National Career Development Association Annual Conference. Virtual presentation and panel discussion.

Reed, A. Y. (1915). Seattle children in school and in industry: With recommendations for increasing the efficiency of the school system and for decreasing the social and economic waste incident to the employment of children 14 to 18 years of age. Board of School Directors.

Reed, A. Y. (2016). Vocational Guidance Report 1913-1916. Wentworth Press.

Sampson, Jr., J. P.,  Lenz, J. G., Reardon, R., & Peterson, G. W. (2011). A cognitive information processing approach to employment problem solving and decision making. Career Development Quarterly, 48(1), 3-18. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-0045.1999.tb00271.x

The Myers-Briggs Company. (n.d.). The history of the MBTI® assessment. https://eu.themyersbriggs.com/en/tools/MBTI/Myers-Briggs-history

Uhl, N., & Day, D. (1993). A cross-cultural comparison of MBTI factor structures. Journal of Psychological Type, 27, 3–10.

Van Kleeck, M. (1917). A Seasonal industry: A study of the millinery trade in New York.  Russell Sage Foundation.

Zhang, L. (2021). Are personality-based intellectual styles culture specific or universal? Frontiers in Psychology, 12. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2021.717670


Sarah Patterson MillsSarah Patterson-Mills, Ph.D., LPC, is the Department Chair of Clinical Mental Health Counseling, Behavior Analysis and Undergraduate Social Work, the School Counseling Program Chair, and Professor in Counseling at Lindenwood University. She earned her doctorate at St. Louis University in Counseling and Family Therapy in 2010, is a licensed therapist with over 15 years of experience working with a variety of clients across the lifespan, and a former 7th -12th grade school counselor. At Lindenwood, she teaches a variety of school counseling and career counseling courses. She serves as Co-Chair of the NCDA Ethics Committee and is the editor of Ethics in a Nutshell columnand Assistant Editor of Career Developments. For the last three years, she has served on the Association of Counselor Educator and Supervision, School Counseling Supervision Work Group.  Her research interests include supervision of school and career counselors using a feminist and systemic counseling theory lens. She can be reached at spatterson-mills@lindenwood.edu.  

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Deneen Pennington   on Wednesday 09/06/2023 at 12:40 PM

I enjoyed your article!

Edward Anthony Colozzi   on Wednesday 09/27/2023 at 05:07 PM

Thank you Sarah for your important Career Convergence article that is both informative and equally inspiring about the powerfully formative roles of women, including early pioneers and today's modern visionaries, and as you note, "a very small sample of the many women who helped shape the field".

One early pioneer who certainly touched many lives, including Frank Parsons, was philanthropist Pauline Agassiz Shaw who founded the Civic Service House in 1901 in Boston Massachusetts, to assist poor individuals and immigrants obtain jobs and educational opportunities.

She is the woman who appointed Meyer Bloomfield to head the Civic Service House where Parsons and his close friend Albertson founded the Breadwinner's Institute to teach courses to young men and women. Parson referenced himself and Mrs. Shaw in his book, Choosing A Vocation, when discussing the Vocation Bureau of Boston, "The Vocation Bureau of Boston was founded in January, 1908, by Mrs. Quincy A. Shaw, on plans drawn up by the writer" (Parsons). Parsons shared in his book, "These plans were submitted to Mrs. Shaw, who heartily approved the ideas and immediately established the new institution with sufficient resources to enable the work to begun as a new department of the Civic Service House in the North End of Boston", with Parsons as the Director and his three colleagues Ralph Albertson, Lucinda Wyman Prince, and Philip Davis. This was a major step in the institutionalization of vocational guidance globally. Parsons gave his first report to the Executive Committee of the Vocational Bureau on May 1, 1908 and presented the term "vocational guidance".

His very personal dedication in his book, acknowledged Mrs. Quincy Shaw "whose far sighted and beneficent philanthropy has done so much for the young people of Boston, and indirectly through the spread of her institutions, for young people throughout the country, this book is dedicated in a spirit of reverent affection and respect".

Thank you again Sarah for reminding us all about the important role of
women in our field, many of us consider to be our sacred calling. EdC

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