Shifting Thoughts on How Work Is Valued

how work is valued

In 2018’s business climate, most companies don’t actively promote the idea that men are better suited for some jobs and women for others. The idea of “women’s work” has faded, if not from everyone’s minds, at least from common vernacular.

But that doesn’t mean that jobs aren’t still coded “male” and “female”, and that “masculine” work isn’t deemed more valuable than “feminine” work. This piece will explore how work is valued in our society, the reasons for this valuation, and how it intersects with gender.

What Work Is Most Highly Valued?

“Value” is a word that can mean many things. In a capitalist economic system, money paid is the most effective way of showing a job’s value. In theory, the jobs that are the highest paid are seen as the most important. According to Glassdoor, these are some of the highest paying jobs in demand:

  • Physician
  • Software Architect
  • Finance Manager
  • Lawyer
  • Product Manager
  • Supply Chain Manager
  • Database Administrator

No one’s going to argue that a doctor’s job isn’t valuable — but let’s look at jobs that people feel contribute the most to society:

  • Soldiers
  • Teachers
  • Physicians
  • Scientists
  • Engineers

Overall, people in this study did not think business executives contributed much to society. When you look at what jobs media promotes as respectable though, you’ll often see business executives, lawyers, and other suit-clad professions.

According to Payscale, the people who found their jobs most meaningful were mostly in the education and healthcare fields. While physicians and surgeons are highly paid, other healthcare services, like rehabilitation counseling, occupational therapy and epidemiology, pay significantly less. It can be argued that a surgery is seen as valuable because it is a billable service item with demonstrable need and immediate gratification. Conversely, an epidemiologist might save hundreds of lives by preventing the spread of Ebola and other viruses, but because the benefit is widespread and there’s no individual to charge,  the work is compensated with less money. Few would argue that epidemiology isn’t valuable, but the money isn’t behind it because it doesn’t serve commercial interests.

How Do Gender Roles Function Economically?

In theory, once a job’s value is established, whoever fills that role would make commensurate compensation. But perception of value is fluid, and jobs get analyzed according to how society views the people in those jobs. In general, media idolizes traits that are valued in men: strength,  power, and ambition. When women portray these traits, they are not valued as highly. So the jobs that get the most outward respect and are rewarded with compensation are jobs that utilize these skills: soldier, lawyer, and manager.

Because the traits that are important to success in these fields have been deemed masculine and are valued more in men, it is generally assumed that men do better in these positions. Conversely, work that requires traits  that are deemed more feminine — compassion, caring for others,  multitasking abilities — is valued economically, if not always by perception. This can be seen in how social workers and caregivers, positions which are often coded female, are often lower paid.People value teachers but won’t always agree that they deserve more compensation. It is sometimes argued that teachers should love what they do, so they shouldn’t need more compensation. That argument is almost exclusively made for jobs where the value lies in human well-being rather than products.

Why Don’t Economic and Perceived Value Always Line Up?

Even though there are some correlations with gender and perceptions of gender roles, the disconnect between jobs that people see as important and jobs people think deserve to be highly paid stems directly from the economic structure of our society. The jobs that benefit the economy are the jobs that will be rewarded economically. This means that jobs that create more opportunities for money to be spent and made.

Companies exist to make money. Even companies with humanitarian causes can only exist as long as there is money to support them. People with money tend to want to invest it in ways that create more money, or at the very least do not come with monetary losses. Few would argue that safeguarding vulnerable populations isn’t important, but they’re also unlikely to pay social workers as much as a lawyer would charge a client. Keeping someone healthy and safe doesn’t have a monetary payout unless that person is rich or there’s someone to sue.

The economic system works very well to feed and sustain itself. But it doesn’t necessarily work to build a better world. When products are valued but people aren’t, people without resources get left behind. This has an environmental impact as well.  And if left unchecked, could result in society’s creations lasting longer than its people.

How Do We Shift Pay Structures?

So if we want to see a world where work that benefits people rather than just production so that social workers don’t have to give up their health in order to make a living, what can we do?

It starts in our businesses. Analyze what jobs are well paid and which aren’t. Do you have jobs that focus exclusively on people’s well-being? Are they compensated as highly as those focused on customer service? Or are you maybe even a step further behind ? Do tasks that recognize employees’ humanity get pushed to the back burner as someone’s side projects instead of being given priority?

When you hire, look at people’s traits and skills instead of just their job history. There are many transferable skills that get discounted because of a lack of specific job experience. For example, teachers are experts at delegation and room control by necessity. These could be extremely valuable skills in a customer education position. Social workers have to be highly empathetic and understanding of where people are coming from. Wouldn’t that be great for customer de-escalation?

When you consider people’s skills from a human perspective rather than just how much money they bring in, you can build an understanding, productive team that will likely serve customers better and result in higher retention and a better reputation. Focusing on people doesn’t have to be exclusive of making money. But it does have to be a factor. Otherwise, the company will eventually lose any value it offers to people and become only valuable to the economic system it serves.

This guest post was authored by Brooke Faulkner

Brooke Faulkner is a writer, mom and adventurer in the Pacific Northwest. She spends her days pondering what makes a good leader.  And then dreaming up ways to teach these virtues to her sons, without getting groans and eye rolls in response.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.