Gender imbalance in the workplace is still the norm in many professions. Continued societal conditioning and bias play key roles. Many still see separate and distinct “jobs for women” and “jobs for men.” These beliefs have reinforced obstacles for gendered job migration. Jobs historically staffed by women are known as “pink-collar jobs.”
A Thought Experiment
Imagine two subway cars joined together. One car represents traditionally male-dominated jobs – for example, engineering. The other represents traditional female jobs – caregiving, for example. Historically, only men boarded the engineering car. Most women, being in positions of lesser power, deferred to men’s stature and stubborn positioning and boarded the second car. This was the norm year after year, stop after stop.
Through normal attrition, men and women left their cars. Occasionally there was movement between cars, with the rare woman boarding the first car, and the rarer man boarding the second. Over time, things began to change. More women pushed their way into the first car, while most men held kept their seats. This is how the patriarchy worked for years. Men held firmly to their seats; when they did make space, it was largely for other men.
The women who pushed themselves onto the crowded, male-dominated engineering car got in but seldom got a real seat – at least not without much effort. For one thing, the arrangement of the car favors males, creating a disadvantage for the women on board. Still, with effort and time, the balance has gradually shifted ever so slightly. Women are figuring out how to claim their seats in greater numbers.
The resulting image is largely of Car 1 with a lot of pushing and posturing. However, we lose sight of the dynamics happening in Car 2. The people in the second car, the caregiving car, largely sat still and were free of struggle. In Car 2, there never was a space issue. Car 2 had plenty of room and plenty of seats – for either sex. If more people on Car 1 simply opted for Car 2, the struggle would be greatly lessened. Of course, many women still board Car 2, but very few of the men do.
What Happens Next?
Space for more women necessitates that either (1) men are displaced through competition where there is little turnover, or (2) a number of men must voluntarily take up positions more traditionally held by females. Women ‘leaning in’ can’t alone dismantle the deep structural inequities. What is needed is for men to ‘lean out’ – and make space by choosing alternate seating.
Suppose that a number of men in this imaginary situation did voluntarily leave Car 1? The balance would not be pushing and bumping but rather balanced flow – equal numbers of men of women wandering onto either car in near equal numbers. To make that a reality, we need only get a number of men to opt for Car 2.
It can be a tough sell, however, and will require some imaginative solutions to truly balance roles. For one thing, we are fighting a situation that has become ingrained over a long period of time. This has caused deep-rooted persistent tendencies.
Nature vs. Nurture
In studies of communal-style communities, such as kibbutz, where people are entirely free to choose occupations and where gender neutrality is a goal, 70 to 80 percent of women still choose occupations in which they work with other people and children, especially caregiving and education. Men still gravitate to work in the fields, construction, and maintenance. Fewer than 18 percent of men cared to work with children or the elderly. An anomaly? Statistics say that in richer countries with better education, more favorable gender laws, more equal pay, more sociable acceptable mixing of genders in careers, in short, more free choices, more women still choose non-masculine and non-male-dominated careers.
These preferences are wrought from comfort – what has been made comfortable for women and what has been made comfortable for men over time. Often we see the side of the argument that says that men are too stubbornly comfortable in Car 1 to leave it without at the same time seeing there are many ways Car 2 is not yet made comfortable for men.
Part of male comfort is that of practicality. Men still often take the jobs that pay the most because they need, or feel they need, to be the primary breadwinner. And the amount of pay greatly disfavors going to the pink car. Car 2 lacks value, real and perceived, as a result of historically rewarding men in Car 1. Car 2 is painted pink and given the pejorative name – pink-collar jobs. The color and the word itself – pink – are synonymous with weak and of less value in our society.
Moving Men into Pink Collar Jobs
Pay disparity, however, could be rectified through equal pay legislation among other things. We need only commit to adding appropriate value to undervalued professions such as teaching.
The bigger hurdle is male social pressure. Even in these times men are not only not encouraged toward Car 2 – they are, more often than not, discouraged. Men are still given funny looks (by both sexes) when they board Car 2. And the future is not encouraging.
While there is much movement to get girls into STEM, for example, there’s been no movement to get men into pink jobs. Public encouragement, like that of Girls in Stem initiatives, aimed at getting men to consider non-male-traditional jobs could make a lot of space for women in Car 1. But again, the reason such encouragement is absent is deeply ingrained societal masculine and feminine ideals. Consider how many reading this article have pushed females to move to Car 2, but at the same time have kept mum about what jobs males might pursue?
Until men are encouraged in some way to ride Car 2, actually enticed to go into caregiving professions for example, and openly accepted there, Car 1 will remain crowded with seats at a premium, and men still sitting stubbornly and not giving way without a struggle.
Very few see gender balance in this way. Rather than dealing with the pink car, the focus remains on the blue one. An exception to this is Norway. Norway has long been a leader in gender equality. But the country wants to go even further. An increasing number of men have now been given incentives and are taking up traditionally female jobs – especially in the nursing and childcare sectors. Incentives are exactly what is needed.
The Role of Organizations
Organizations need to embrace this example. As much as an organization may want to recruit and hire female engineers, they need to first account for the space. It’s very difficult for organizations to have more female engineers or CEOs until they have more male administrative professionals. Only so many majority-dominated jobs open each year, while at the same time male favoring structures compound the issue of limiting Car 1 access to females. Organizations may have to take up the mantle and incentivize pink-collar jobs for men. If not, then it is left to slow-moving governments, or slower moving societal perspectives.
There is a tipping point in seeing gender roles differently, one that is helped along by leveraging role models in the workplace, as another solution. If we could get more cross-overs between cars these can be leveraged through visibility. As it stands more males pursue science because they believe themselves better at it since science has had a male face. However, in studies where both women and men were shown photographs of other people in other roles (e.g., doctor, police) and then asked to list their own traits, rather than noting what traits they might already possess, they identified traits more aligned with what they saw. Their own self-concept changed through imagery alone. The more we see images of women engineers or male caregivers, the more it becomes acceptable on both conscious and unconscious levels. In the same way, we are using images of females in stem we need to use more images of male nurses, teachers, etc.
Training as a Tool for Equity
Another solution is training. Masculine and feminine (socialized) traits can play a large role in career selection. For example, empathy being practiced and evidenced in more females makes it more likely that women will select careers where empathy is an asset, such as caregiving. In fact, in the field of medicine, women choose pediatrics much more often than men do and the result is an imbalance in that field. This can be changed however … change one’s skill set and one’s preferences may change also. Take empathy for example. Once empathy is mastered as a product of training and/or practice, career options expand both in preference and in opportunity. Just like mastering the skill of swimming may lead a person to become a lifeguard. If we trained empathy in men, for example, they might feel more inclined to seek more caregiving jobs.
Pink Collar Jobs: In Summary
These are just a few ideas to consider in tackling job inequalities. We can continue to work on issues in the blue car, but we must also acknowledge and address issues with the pink car as well to fully achieve equity.
Let’s first start with raising awareness by sharing articles such as this.
By David S Rowell
Author of Value and Voice – Solutions to Organizational Gender Balance