When I read this entry on FabulouslyBroke.com, Should Women Work in Male-Dominated Jobs?, I tried not to get too hung up on the title. However, the rest of the post didn’t really do much to redeem itself, citing getting your hands dirty and guy-talk as reasons to steer clear of male-dominated professions.
I disagreed, and I wasn’t the only one. Cassie wrote about being a woman in a “dirty” STEM profession and received a lot of comments with great discussion on the topic of women in classically-male jobs. I’m hoping to add to that conversation here.
I was raised in a girls-can-do-anything-boys-can-do household, and every time I run into sexism, my first reaction is disbelief (followed quickly by disappointment and frustration). I take it particularly hard when a woman is perpetuating the problem by accepting it as normal, or just ignoring the issue altogether.
I really feel the biggest barrier to equality between the sexes is men and women accepting it as “just the way it is”.
The problem isn’t only men. Men see us the way we represent ourselves.
Things that concern me:
- the cultural misunderstanding that women simply aren’t as good at math/science as men and therefore unsuited to STEM professions
- women not receiving promotions as often as men, resulting in women being less represented in corporate leadership.
- women earning less than a man in an identical role.
- justifying women earning less on average because they take extended time off of work to raise children or care for relatives (while this is true, all it really shows is a lack of cultural and employer for support for child-rearing and family obligations)
But, back to the topic at hand!
Should women work in male-dominated professions?
Of course they should. Women should work in whatever professions they want to.
I feel it necessary to state the obvious that it wasn’t that long ago that ALL professions were male-dominated. Women really didn’t enter the workforce into the middle of the last century because they simply weren’t allowed. Many careers were closed to the point that women weren’t even permitted to study the requisite subjects in university.
Imagine being told you couldn’t study law or medicine because you were a girl? That was the reality less than 100 years ago. Even in the 1960s women were believed to be incapable of handling anything more taxing than simple secretarial work.
I think that because we are young (that’s speaking for my female millennial peers and readers), we often forget or perhaps simply may not know just how newly obtained our rights really are. Some fun facts showing just how recent fundamental women’s rights are in Canada:
In 1974, the RCMP hired its first woman member, one hundred years after an 1874 magazine stated, “Woman’s first and only place is in her home.”
In 1978 female flight attendants won the right to continue working after marriage and past the age of 32. In the same year, the law changed so that women could no longer be fired for pregnancy in federally-regulated industries.
In 1983, the Canadian Human Rights Act prohibited sexual harassment in workplaces under federal jurisdiction. Before this women in these workplaces had no legal recourse if their employers demanded sexual favours.
Scary, right? The list goes on.
Now, I also feel it necessary to mention that if more women went into male-dominated professions, they would cease to be male-dominated professions.
Part of the reason that there’s a lack of female engineers and pipe-fitters is because we steer girls away from those professions as early as middle school (maybe even elementary school?) by failing to present these options as viable career choices. I don’t think we do this intentionally, I think there are tremendous societal norms that we adhere to subconsciously, but it does women a disservice.
There are physical, emotional, and mental differences between the sexes.
But I also want to mention that I tend to view these differences in both gender and sexuality as a gradient rather than the fixed compartmentalized definitions we traditionally subscribe to. Masculinity to femininity comprise a spectrum with many erroneously defined edges and a blurry middle, and individuals fall all over the place, often regardless of what sex they were “born” or raised as. Furthermore, while I find this all tremendously interesting, I also operate under the belief that where or how or when you identify as a man or woman (or not) is completely irrelevant to your ability to do a job. Your sex is a part of you, but it doesn’t define you, and it absolutely should not pose any barrier to your success in classical ballet or the oil industry. I only care that, whatever you do, you do it well (and if possible, that you enjoy it very much and glean a great personal sense of fulfillment from it).
Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do or be something because of your gender.
But most important of all, don’t tell yourself this.
If you have 15 minutes to spare, this is one of my favorite TED talks of all time from Facebook’s COO Sheryl Strandberg on women in the workforce:
I have a STEM degree. Part of my full-time offline job is to encourage young women to pursue careers in a very male dominated industry. I don’t deserve to be paid less than a man for my work, and under no circumstances should I be kept from advancing in my career because of my gender. More than anything,
I want to live in a world where no profession is considered difficult or inaccessible, where no success is considered unlikely or impossible, and where no one assumes I am less competent or committed because I am a woman.
And I really want other women to believe this too.