Many people, both women and men think there are jobs which are unsuitable for women or at least more suitable for men.
What Professions Are More Suitable For Men?
Jobs in engineering for example. How many female engineers do you know? I know one and she is the only one at our company – at least in the Austrian affiliate. Many would say that there aren’t more women because the job is unsuitable for women.
This was also true for doctors and other such high paying medical professions, and I don’t think many people today would say that was a profession unsuitable for women. Only a few decades ago, they could become nurses but being a doctor was definitely seen as a profession completely unsuitable for a woman.
It took decades of prejudice before that opinion changed. And when you think about it, the reason was simply a reinforcement of opinion: no women did that job, therefore it was not a job for a woman.
Women Can Do What Men Can Do
There are maybe a few unsuitable jobs for women, especially when extreme physical strength is required, but those jobs are also unsuitable for most men, and not what we are talking about here, which is mental ability.
Women can do what men can do and have done so for hundreds of years while men were at war. But the old stereotypes that women are weak, unable to learn certain things or generally not good at technical jobs are still alive. Very alive – which means that every woman who decides to pursue such a career must have a strong personality.
It’s not only the stereotypes though. There’s also this human tendency that we like to surround us with people who are like us. It makes us feel comfortable.
We expect that we will think and act along the same lines if we are generally alike. That leads to men liking to surround themselves with men and hiring younger versions of themselves rather than looking for diversity.
This is not a tendency amongst men but generally amongst humans. Think about your friends and coworkers. Are the ones you spend a lot of time with similar to you? You’ll probably realize that we surround ourselves with people of the same interests, the same educational background, the same color… it’s a natural instinct.
Why Employers Are Afraid to Hire Women?
Another aspect may be that men are afraid that hiring women might cause trouble in the company and no leader wants trouble in his company. After #metoo, a lot of men are very insecure about how to behave towards women out of fear that their actions could be interpreted as sexual harassment.
In male-dominated environments, in particular, men will be used to a certain way of talking and joking.
The reason is that men test each other with this behavior. In a male group, especially one that works as a team, and regardless of whether or not they are friends, it becomes very important to be sure that there is no weak link. This is what leads to jokes on other team members’ behalf.
Even in male-dominated workplaces where the men are both really happy to have women there and very conscious of the way they should behave, and genuinely happy for diversity. It might happen that at some point, someone is going to say something that is not ill-intentioned but that still will come out as being disrespectful or sexist.
Like when the female engineer was told by her colleagues on the first day: “Finally someone who will clean the coffee machine.” She simply replied: “you go first” – which left him speechless. Needless to say, she never cleaned the coffee machine.
Then there is one more aspect which is often overlooked: Women are statistically less interested in certain jobs, may they be technical, physical or maybe particularly dangerous. It’s crucial though that it in no way means that the women who are interested are less suited for those jobs than men who are interested in them.
Unsuitable Work Environments
If you’re doubting whether you are suited for a job, stop and consider if this is a job that you are passionately interested in learning and doing. If yes, then that is a sign that you probably inherently are suited for that job.
If you’re not quite feeling this strongly about it (I know, passionate is a strong word) but you’re curious, you can still give it a try. Better try and fail than always regret that you “should have”.
Having established that there are no unsuitable jobs and you need just search the best job for you. But we need to be aware that there are unsuitable work environments for women. In certain fields or companies, it will take you a lot of confidence, nerves, and tolerance (or, in a way, a sense of humor) to survive, just like for my colleague, the engineer.
It also often takes a lot of persistence and hard work until a woman’s skill and knowledge will be recognized by peers and superiors. And you as a woman will probably need to put in more effort to progress in your career in such an environment than a man.
Of course, not all men and all companies are like that. Many companies and many men recognize the value of gender diversity and how women can have a different perspective on things. In such companies and environments, we women can thrive, no matter in which role. If your company or coworkers are not embracing diversity, it doesn’t mean that you can’t succeed.
However, it’s probably going to be a lot harder, and probably a long and hard fight. You should set goals and achieve them. It will probably cost you a lot of nerves and energy. I’ve seen women trying to push through and advance in a male-dominated environment and I’ve seen many fails.
It wasn’t because they were unsuitable for the job. It was that the environment was unsuitable for them. So guess what: they moved into different departments or companies and are thriving there in the same kind of job.
Guest post by Bettina Árnafjall