Catching A Break (With A Catch): Careers In Which Women Have An Advantage

They give women certain perks, but do the pros outweigh the cons?

October 30, 2017
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While there are quite a few perks to womanhood across the societal board, employment isn’t an area we’d normally associate with those perks.

… across the American jobscape, women make 79 cents for every dollar men make.

Gender inequality in the work place has been around for decades, and it hasn’t improved dramatically as of late. A few industries, though, seem to give women an advantage—or at least a break. But not without adversity.

Dr. Suzanne L. Holt, professor of women’s studies at Kent State University, believes that philosopher and feminist theorist Marilyn Frye’s ideas of a double bind— or “situations in which options are reduced to a very few and all of them expose one to penalty, censure or deprivation”—help explain what women are up against in the workplace.

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“There’s a cost to playing the ‘woman card,’ to rolling with gender rules,” Holt says. “Women at work, if they hope to take on leadership roles or advance ‘up the proverbial ladder,’ face predictable predicaments.”

Holt argues that women are measured by “masculine” standards. If they underplay their gender, they aren’t “female enough.” If they play up their gender, they typically fail at their jobs. Essentially, women are presented with no-win situations.

“It’s the ‘damned if you do and damned if you don’t’ double-bind,” says Holt. “The language of gender insists on extremes and opposites: and we buy it too often.”

With all the news of harassment and discrimination in the workplace, it sounds impossible that women can actually have an advantage over men when it comes to employment. Here, though, are two industries that are making that happen…somewhat.

Jobs Where Women Have the Advantage

Producers and Directors

Hollywood may not be as generous towards its female actresses as it is towards males, but there is one area in which the ladies are cleaning up: behind the scenes.

According to CBS News, female producers and directors earn 106.2 cents for every 100 cents made by their male counterparts. Annually, that adds up to about $66,226 for women and $62,368 for men.

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Patty Jenkins, right, will become the highest paid female director in history when she heads Wonder Woman 2, according to The Telegraph. She will make between $7 million and $9 million (via The Playlist)

This is significant, as across the American jobscape, women make 79 cents for every dollar men make.

Even though women in these positions are making it rain, men still dominate the field. Only 21 percent of film producers and directors are female.

A study conducted by the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in the Media revealed that women are poorly represented onscreen, as well.

Only 31 percent of speaking roles are given to women, and when they are, women are typically portrayed as less than powerful—at least when it comes to the professional world. Women represent only about 15 percent of onscreen business executive, STEM employee, and political figure roles.

Iron Working

Let’s just say that if you didn’t want to throw on an over-sized sweater and dance around while wearing a welder’s mask after watching the 1983 film Flashdance, you were among the few.

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Actress Jennifer Beals inspired women just about everywhere to become welders when she portrayed Alexandra “Alex” Owens, an 18-year-old ironworker with a dream of becoming a professional dancer. And although Beals’ character was only using welding as a means to reach her goal, the women in the industry aren’t going anywhere, and in fact, the powers that be want more.

As such, the Iron Workers Union announced it will offer up to an eight-month paid maternity leave to pregnant women and new moms. This is just part of a larger push from male-dominated industries to draw in women, per the Denver Post.

My primary advice to women entering male-dominated industries is [to] count the cost and be prepared, find your steel, and don’t forget who you are or why you wanted this work.

This new desire to hire female employees in traditionally male-dominated industries is primarily the result of a wave of baby boomers retiring. Positions that were historically held by men in industries like automotive repair, trucking, and construction are becoming vacant. Millennials are forgoing trade careers and leaning more toward technology when they enter the workforce.

Applicants often fail drug tests, making them unhirable, and by the numbers, men are more likely to overdose on illicit substances than women. In a time when the nation is in the grips of a devastating opioid epidemic, male-dominated industries are feeling the tragic effects.

While increased perks might lure women to the trades, keeping them on the payroll might be tough. A study conducted by the US Department of Labor found that 88 percent of female construction workers experienced on-the-job harassment. And as women take over male dominated fields, that field’s pay drops, according to The New York Times.

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These are two likely reasons why women only make up 1.6 percent of their trade’s 130,000-member union, reported Slate, and only 3 percent of the trade workforce as a whole.

Entering a Field as a Gender Minority

The simple fact is, some professions are dominated by women. Teaching, child care, nursing, administrative work: positions in these industries are largely filled by them. Have you ever wondered why young women are often drawn towards some careers more than others?

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“I think it’s this: instinct, adaptability, and—finally—a nascent toolkit for getting a good read on reality, the risks as much as the possibilities,” says Holt. “Females have thousands of years’ old legacies of adapting, having to get a good read on what they’re facing, having to weigh the differentials of their power and their vulnerability. Women have much at stake in their decisions. Women know that.”

Armed with this knowledge, however, are women making good choices when they decide to enter male-dominated fields? The answer isn’t so simple.

“I think it’s more a matter of courage that spurs women to enter these fields,” says Holt. “However, I believe that, once there, wisdom is paramount.”

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“Women whose callings take them into hostile workspaces really do face the giant challenge of playing their hands and making their choices wisely and well: open-eyed, clear-headed, true to themselves, focused on goals,” she continues. “My primary advice to women entering male-dominated industries is [to] count the cost and be prepared, find your steel, and don’t forget who you are or why you wanted this work.”

Why Do Some Female-Dominated Fields Pay Men More?

It’s probably not a surprise that women dominate the nursing field in terms of their presence. In fact, out of the 2 million registered nurses, only 10 percent of them are men.

But what may (or may not) be a surprise, however, is that female nurses actually earn less than men in the field do.

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According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, male nurses earn more than female nurses in just about every specialty, including ambulatory care, chronic care, and cardiology.

The pay gap for male and female nurses averages about $5,000 per year. Though it may not seem like much, over the course of a long career this difference could total about $150,000.

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How do companies get away with paying men more when they are in female-dominated fields?

“It’s significant that wherever women are the majority, those jobs are not highly valued,” says Holt. “So, males enter such spaces. They bring their male prestige. They add value. Our culture has been slow and reluctant to own how deeply embedded are our ways of valuing men and women—and how deeply habitual are our practices of esteeming men’s work as the real deal—the standard against which we measure. In a profit-driven society, men add value. It’s that simple. Value is our bottom line.”

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No matter what type of employment a woman takes on, one thing is clear: whoever hires her will have access to the perks that being a woman has afforded her.

“I’m going to say, however, that there are advantages for women in one critical way,” says Holt. “Life provides a range of experiences to girls and women that boys and men often miss; those distinct experiences add cool dimensionality to work women do.”

From a Man’s Perspective

The love of educating and inspiring youngsters isn’t something that discriminates upon gender. However, more than three-quarters of all teachers from kindergarten to high school are women, and more than 80 percent of elementary and middle school teachers are.

Teaching was once an industry that was dominated by men. In the 1960s, however, when women entered the workforce, that all changed. Women began taking over the teaching and nursing fields. Over a half century later, ladies hold the vast majority of teaching post. And although they do an incredible job, the diversity that having male teachers brings is still needed.

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Bradford Sweet, a middle school teacher and STEM coordinator in Linthicum, Maryland, has taught for a little over eleven years. In his time educating, he says he hasn’t received any flack for his career choice, and uses his position to serve as a positive male influence to others.

“Students need compassionate teachers who really want to inspire young minds,” says Sweet. “It’s important that our schools have a diverse population of teachers and staff to give students an educational experience that will hopefully expose them to a wide variety of positive role models. Students need to be aware that there are amazing people from all walks of life.”

They do. But they also need to be aware that amongst middle school teachers, women only make 87 cents to every man’s dollar.

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