Wednesday, August 4, 2010
Ms. PhD's post
at YoungFemaleScientist got me thinking about this article
from The Atlantic Magazine.
Reflecting on the fact that women now outnumber men in the workplace Hanna Rossin suggests that it only makes sense given the evolution of the job force in America. As our society develops from manual labor/manufacturing/agrarian nation to a post industrialized one, it appears that the attributes in women (communication, nurturing, flexibility, social intelligence, the ability to focus) open doors to success which were previously closed. The majority of jobs in the US no longer require size nor strength.
It can be found, most immediately, in the wreckage of the Great Recession, in which three-quarters of the 8 million jobs lost were lost by men. The worst-hit industries were overwhelmingly male and deeply identified with macho: construction, manufacturing, high finance. Some of these jobs will come back, but the overall pattern of dislocation is neither temporary nor random. The recession merely revealed—and accelerated—a profound economic shift that has been going on for at least 30 years, and in some respects even longer. And how does this manifest in the fields (like science) where "knowledge is power"?Women dominate today’s colleges and professional schools—for every two men who will receive a B.A. this year, three women will do the same. Of the 15 job categories projected to grow the most in the next decade in the U.S., all but two are occupied primarily by women. Indeed, the U.S. economy is in some ways becoming a kind of traveling sisterhood: upper-class women leave home and enter the workforce, creating domestic jobs for other women to fill.
So if this is a 'custom-made' country for women why doesn't it feel like our society has made the shift from patriarchal to matriarchial? Why are women still paid less for the same work? Well, it once again comes down the S-word. SEXISM
It is often emasculating for men, to sit back and watch "their" field become female dominated, and it is even more emasculating to enter a career track which has always been considered "women's work." Part of that can be attributed to machismo and lack of adaptability, and perhaps the feeling that a field dominated by women may not be worth entering
. Stereotypes (and the bigotry that comes with it) is still at work in many of today's workplaces.
The list of growing jobs is heavy on nurturing professions, in which women, ironically, seem to benefit from old stereotypes and habits. Theoretically, there is no reason men should not be qualified. But they have proved remarkably unable to adapt. Over the course of the past century, feminism has pushed women to do things once considered against their nature—first enter the workforce as singles, then continue to work while married, then work even with small children at home. Many professions that started out as the province of men are now filled mostly with women—secretary and teacher come to mind. Yet I’m not aware of any that have gone the opposite way. Nursing schools have tried hard to recruit men in the past few years, with minimal success. Teaching schools, eager to recruit male role models, are having a similarly hard time. The range of acceptable masculine roles has changed comparatively little, and has perhaps even narrowed as men have shied away from some careers women have entered. Fortunately, at least in the eyes of Ms.Rossin, even that hindrance should soon come to an end.
Yes, the U.S. still has a wage gap, one that can be convincingly explained—at least in part—by discrimination. Yes, women still do most of the child care. And yes, the upper reaches of society are still dominated by men. But given the power of the forces pushing at the economy, this setup feels like the last gasp of a dying age rather than the permanent establishment.
Dozens of college women I interviewed for this story assumed that they very well might be the ones working while their husbands stayed at home, either looking for work or minding the children. Guys, one senior remarked to me, “are the new ball and chain.” It may be happening slowly and unevenly, but it’s unmistakably happening: in the long view, the modern economy is becoming a place where women hold the cards.And this career conversion goes beyond the working middle class. Even white collar professions are becoming female friendly..
With the exception of the sciences.
(Although 45% of post docs are female, only 19% of senior investigators are women. Similar lack of gains are seen in the very top tiers of business as well, where only 3% of Fortune 500 companies have a female CEO.)Women are also starting to dominate middle management, and a surprising number of professional careers as well. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics [..] a third of America’s physicians are now women, as are 45 percent of associates in law firms—and both those percentages are rising fast. A white-collar economy values raw intellectual horsepower, which men and women have in equal amounts. It also requires communication skills and social intelligence, areas in which women, according to many studies, have a slight edge. Perhaps most important—for better or worse—it increasingly requires formal education credentials, which women are more prone to acquire, particularly early in adulthood. Just about the only professions in which women still make up a relatively small minority of newly minted workers are engineering and those calling on a hard-science background.
Perhaps it is because science and engineering is not an environment which requires a lot of intrinsic communication and/or nurturing behavior
. Is it possible that science is still an 'old boys club' where sexism runs rampant or perhaps women just aren't interested?
Another dilemma is that frequently
couples are faced with the two-body problem which drives women out of the leaky pipeline. It is rarely assumed that in a couple where both parties have advanced degrees
that the male partner will be the one to sacrifice, either with a less prestigious position, or to become the stay-at-home parent. In these cases it is typically the women who fear their careers cannot survive motherhood
and often sacrifice their positions. (When is the last time you even saw a poll where they asked fathers about their careers and how it relates to fatherhood?)
Whatever the reason, it will require a major paradigm shift in order for women to become the dominant force in science. Not only will a better domestic support system
need to be in place for women to succeed in a field which often requires 10+ hour days and frequent weekend and evening hours (which aren't always possible
when one is the primary caregiver), but also a support network of their peer group (who up until now has been mainly men) is essential.
Hopefully young female scientists can take hope from what is happening in other career fields, and aspire for such equality in the world of academia. 50 years ago, you would be hard pressed to find someone who thought women would one day outnumber men in the work force, and they were very wrong. Perhaps those naysayers
who lament about the long-term role of women in the hard sciences will be just as incorrect.