The Changing Landscape of “Gendered” Career Paths

When a baby is born, the doctor proclaims their sex based on their physical anatomy. Hearing a doctor proudly state, “It’s a boy” or “It’s a girl” has been happening since the beginning of modern medicine. However, just because hospital staff placed a blue hat on your head doesn’t mean you will grow up only liking football, fire trucks, and race cars.  And it shouldn’t impact your ability to pursue any career path that life draws you toward.

Unfortunately, this is all too often the case. Throughout your lifetime, you learn social norms for people who are assigned the same gender as you. Society might tell you that because you have male genitalia, you should grow up to be a construction worker, doctor, or truck driver. And for people born with female genitalia, jobs like nurse, secretary, or teacher are at the top of the list.

Due to recent strides, however, gender distinctions like these are beginning to fade. Today, just about every role in the United States, except for the presidency, has been held by both sexes. With the erosion of norms surrounding “gendered” career paths, some questions arise. Even though we’ve come a long way in the journey of understanding the answers to questions like “What is sex?” or “What is gender?,” others are harder to answer.

Finding your answer to such questions can be a very personal journey. For example, you might still struggle to determine what your gender identity means to you, which might play a role in the career you feel most comfortable in pursuing. Sex and gender fluidity remain hotly contested topics. As society becomes more understanding of differences, career opportunities are opening for both men and women.

Checking the Box for Your Sex

Choosing a career is challenging. However, for many people picking their sex or gender on employment paperwork can be downright tricky, especially as individuals may want to avoid being treated differently based on their reported gender. This has caused employers around the world to consider new ways to identify gender identity or expression in the workplace. The sooner more employers embrace the idea that you might be nonbinary, the sooner you can be yourself at work and meet all of your career goals.

Another area of need in the world of employers is to understand LGBT history and culture when creating workplace policies. With the removal of destructive norms from the workplace, new workplace policies that accomodate for modern needs and expectations will need to be instituted.

Flipping the Script of “Gendered Jobs”

Gender lines in the workplace are starting to get blurry. Careers that were once considered female now host a larger percentage of men. The same is true for traditional male occupations. For instance, a man might identify as a female in daily life but work in a job that is traditionally male-dominated, such as a firefighter.

Regardless of your particular circumstances, your available career paths should no longer be determined by your gender. As more “gendered jobs” are now being flipped than ever before, it’s an excellent time to consider some career choices that are getting a facelift. Here are four career fields where gender roles are becoming obsolete over time:

Is a Male Nurse Still a Nurse?

When you see a man in scrubs walking down the hall of a hospital, do you automatically think that he must be a doctor? Well, you might want to reconsider, because the new normal in nursing is placing more men at the bedside. In 1960, only 2 percent of all U.S. nurses were men. Fast forward to 2017, and 13 percent of nurses were men.

Spend any time in an intensive care unit or emergency room and you’ll likely find a man caring for ill patients. Men have entered the profession to enjoy the dependability of the job, good pay, and a job outlook that continues to increase each year.

Embracing Women in the Military

Pick up any history textbook, and you will probably see images of men during wartime protecting our country. However, in recent years more women have stepped up to the plate to protect and serve. It’s important to note that women have been on the periphery of the military since the American Revolution in roles like cook or nurse. Today, roles have changed for women in the military, allowing them to serve in combat and even advance into the highest ranks.

Women in the military have made tremendous strides. However, for people of other gender identities, the advancements aren’t nearly as notable. The Supreme Court recently revived a ban on most transgender people from serving in the military. The ban allows those who are currently serving to continue and others who are willing to serve “in their biological sex” to join.

Women in Police and Fire

Fire and police stations remain dominated by men. However, more women are choosing to stand on the front lines of public safety careers. Women have been in law enforcement since the early 1900s but primarily served in roles working with women and children. Today, the value of women in these male-dominated roles is being acknowledged.

Women offer new ways to deal with conflict, have creative problem-solving abilities, and employ verbal skills that the force hasn’t seen in the past. Leveraging your skills in these traditionally male positions can allow you to distinguish yourself as an innovator.

Men Educating Future Generations

Male educators aren’t a new occurrence. Many men have worked as principles and high school teachers. However, in recent years there have been more men serving in childcare roles and as preschool/kindergarten teachers. These positions were traditionally considered female roles because of the amount of care and nurturing that teachers provide to younger children. Old stereotypes that men cannot be educators are being broken every day as we embrace the importance of male teachers.

Trailblazing Your Own Career Path

In spite of these changes, you will may encounter occasional hardships. Here are for some tips for navigating the workplace going forward:

  • Answering Questions: Co-workers or managers with traditional mindsets may feel confused and have questions about your identity or interests. Don’t feel pressured into speaking about subjects that you’re uncomfortable delving into, especially in a new work environment.
  • Assumptions and Stereotypes:   When faced with assumptions from managers or co-workers based on your identity, show them that you want to engage in a mutually respectful workplace. For instance, if they use an incorrect pronoun to address you, calmly correct them.
  • Harassment:   Of course, words and actions from others at work can cross the line from innocent misunderstanding to clear harassment.  Especially if there are repeated incidents or physical intimidation. While you may be hesitant to do so, don’t be shy about reporting these individuals to your supervisor or HR department.

Regardless of what the doctor proclaimed when you were born, you’re unique and have qualities that this world needs. Create career goals that fit what you want to do in this life — not what your sex supposedly says about you.

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.