Why Don’t More Men Pursue Female-Dominated Professions?

(Photo:  American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter)

(Photo: American Red Cross Oregon Trail Chapter)

A reader named Albert Hickey writes:

I’m a father of three girls and I’m into technology. I keep hearing that there is a major bias toward men in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) at college and in the workforce.  I also regularly see blog posts, videos, interviews and podcasts where women are discussing how this is not right and that we need to have more equality in STEM. All good and more women in tech would be a good thing as women are major users of technology.

But it struck me that I have near heard of men fighting for more men to study traditionally female-dominated subjects or jobs like primary-school teacher, nurse, PR officers and therapists.

Why are women fighting for more women to do STEM while men are not fighting for more men to be therapists?

My quick response to him:

I’m guessing it’s b/c of the wage differential but you are right, it’s worth asking.

Albert wrote back with more detail:

There are I suspect as many men working in low-paid jobs that could benefit from becoming psychologists, P.R. officers or nurses.

The question is not so much why women are out there beating the drum to encourage more women to take up traditionally male-dominated jobs, but why aren’t men doing the same in the areas that men are underrepresented?

Is it just that:

1. Men have enough options already.
2. Men are selfish: “If I’m doing OK, why should I fight to better other peoples lives/or just change them?”
3. Because of long-standing sexual discrimination in the workplace, women are more use to being vocal about inequalities in the workforce.
4. Or is it something completely different.

Under the “something completely different” category, I’d include the possibility that some men see some jobs as simply too traditionally female to consider.

What do you all have to say?

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  1. PRslave says:

    As a man who has worked in female-dominated PR for almost 20 years, it is no fun at all.

    The culture is geared completely to the advancement and preferences of women.

    When I finally found an office with a male boss, I held on for dear life.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 67 Thumb down 13
    • Steve Cebalt says:

      Hi PR Slave. I have worked in PR all my life and own by own firm, and I love it. I’ve enjoyed working with women. My bosses and clients and co-workers have almost all been female and it’s been good — and fun. I provide cultural diversity :) I would hate to think my success hinged on having a male boss; I’ve never felt that.

      As for Albert’s original question, I would challenge the premise. How do we know men aren’t pushing for men to be nurses, teachers, etc? Any data to support the premise? Seems like I see an awful lot of male nurses these days.

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  2. YC Lim says:

    There could a “comparative advantage” type of factor that make gender-based specialisation economically sensible. Men will on average perform better than women in hauling heavy stuff and spatial sensing; women will on average perform better than men in task requiring heavy empathy and care-giving (but not reading maps).

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    • Julien Couvreur says:

      The question of comparative advantage is plausible.
      That said, I’m curious if you can offer evidence that women are actually more empathic than men?

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1
      • Alex B says:

        5 months in utero, there is something called a “Testosterone Wash” which almost cuts the connector between the left and right side of the brain. In fact, it shrinks the connector to about 1/5 the size of a woman’s. This means that men are not only PHYSICALLY brain dead (I am a man, by the way) but we also are forced, naturally to think right side then left side (that is… logic first, then creativity). Women are able to understand the emotional aspect of something much quicker than men can. If you put a man and woman on a couch, and played them a commercial of a child starving, the man will process that and think about it before saying: Oh my god.. that’s terrible. Whereas a woman will look at the commercial and almost immediately empathize for the starving child. The tears will come to the man, but they may take longer than they will to a woman.

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    • Pshrnk says:

      You may no longer be Harvard’s president.

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  3. Dave says:

    You missed “men consider ‘women’s work’ demeaning”. Excess testosterone combined with macho culture to induce a mindset that makes many men reluctant to engage anything even vaguely feminine.

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    • Mike B says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

      Disliked! Like or Dislike: Thumb up 40 Thumb down 45
      • Joe J says:

        Because garbageman is such a privileged desired occupation of course its practically solely done by men.

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      • Mike B says:

        Municipal waste management jobs are often highly sought after.

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      • Pshrnk says:

        Kinda backwards. For a long time men being expected to be the primary wage earners pushed to get a higher paying job, even if the work sucked. With more knowledge work at which women seem to have an edge, and with less push for men to be the primary earner there is less reason for men to push for the higher paying less enjoyable work. But also not much push from men for lower paying hard work….such as nursing.

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  4. Anna Sellers says:

    If I were to make a guess at the reasons, I would guess it is kind of #3 with a twist.

    Women encourage each other to get into male dominated jobs, because they are not only helping themselves, they are helping their entire gender. There isn’t as much of that going on for males. If my son says “I want to be a secretary,” for example, some of the women in his life might encourage him, but the men in his life might tease him or suggest other occupations more suited to guys. In some ways, a decision like that might even be seen as discrediting the gender.

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  5. Amanda says:

    I think it depends on the office, I worked/working in PR. I think there is actually a bias towards men, at least when it comes to later promotions. The managing director was a guy, and more guys were in positions of power. When it came to the larger division, most of the main people were men. At least at that top 5 firm, it seemed like there were many men who rose faster than women. I think at the beginning it may be hard, but men have the advantage I think even there. Yes, in smaller offices I can see why it’s hard, but maybe that has more to do with women being harder to work with sometimes when they’re in positions of management. The profession is probably 90% women but many of the top people are men, so ultimately men have the upper hand. Women can probably just go into a low paying job that requires a lot out of you because the job attracts more pretty women who can hedge their bets and date, or marry, etc. The sky is not going to fall if they don’t get paid much.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 14 Thumb down 18
  6. caitlyn (ladyphlogiston) says:

    a related issue crops up in the baby name world – more and more parents of girls are choosing androgynous or even masculine names as “strong” names for their baby girls (think nicknames like Max, Sam, Charlie, a lot of the surname-names like Emerson or Addison, etc) with the result that parents of baby boys are increasingly unwilling to use androgynous names for their sons, and some originally-androgynous names are now entirely feminine. (A few go the other way, but it isn’t as common.) (Search “androgynous” on the blog at babynamewizard for relevant articles and numbers.)

    I think there’s strong social pressure on man not to have traditionally-feminine traits (such as empathy) while women are being pushed to take on traditionally-masculine traits (such as social aggressiveness and decisiveness.) Which is a shame, since those are all useful traits and we all have them in varying amounts, but such is life.

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  7. Jack says:

    I am currently writing this quick response from a lecture about creativity in Early years teaching, a profession I am currently pursuing. Naturally, in this class of thirty or so prospective teachers, I am the only male.

    I can only speak for myself here, but despite the seemingly obvious factors (Children are hillarious, stable job, good holidays) my transition into early years teaching relies heavily on the fact that I am indeed the only male in my group, and that (hopefully) this will make me stand out as a commodity when it comes to future employment. There is currently a push from various universities to persuade more male candidates to pursue a career in the Early years, and I would be lying if I said that potential for employment was not a factor when I first applied for this post. For others, this may not be the case, and I’m sure the factors are entirely different for a strong female applying for traditionally male dominated positions.

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    • Tommy Schouw says:

      This is very much the case in Denmark where I reside, my wife works in Child Care, and after graduating and job hunting she would sometimes come back from an interview with a simple “a guy showed up, so I’m not getting the position”.

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  8. Joe J says:

    Had talked to a young man who had just switched majors out of education. He said in the first week 3 different women had asked if he was a pedophile.

    A man who fights for his rights in this world looks like a bully. And is treated as a mysoginist.

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    • J1 says:

      Because of long standing sexual discrimination in the workforce. Against men. That that possibility didn’t even occur to the writer or to Stephen is a big part of the problem.

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