Later this month Little Fockers will be released in theaters. I anticipate that there will be jokes about Greg being a male nurse just as there have been in the first two films. Maybe we shouldn’t be laughing.
Cultural conditioning can and does affect our career selection. Dr. Linda Gottfredson has extensively study this phenomenon. She found that without even realizing it, we create cognitive maps of occupations based upon prestige and sex-typing. We then create tolerable boundaries of acceptable and unacceptable jobs. This causes us to ultimately reject socially unsuitable options.
What are these socially unsuitable fields? The U.S. Department of Labor defines a career as non-traditional if fewer than 25 percent of the workers are male or female. In addition to nursing, here are a few non-traditional occupations (NTO) for men:
- Social Worker
- Preschool and Kindergarten teacher
- Elementary and Middle School teacher
- Dietitian and nutritionist
- Occupational Therapist
- Recreational Therapist
- Dental Hygienist
- Computer programmers
- Detectives and criminal investigators
- Broadcast and sound technicians or radio operators
- Police and sheriff’s patrol officers
- Civil, Chemical, Industrial, Mechanical and Electrical engineers
If you are considering a NTO, here are a few suggestions to help you clarify your decision and prepare to enter the field:
1) Find a mentor. These individuals can serve as role models who can help you confirm your career selection, identify pre-vocational training opportunities, and acquire valuable coping skills for any challenges that you might experience. Their support may be especially beneficial if your friends or family are hesitant about your choice.
2) Join a professional organization for support. National organizations exist, such as Work for Women; Advocates for Women in Science, Engineering & Mathematics; or Institute for Women in Trade, Technology & Science. You may also find a specific organization for your field and sex, such as the American Assembly of Men in Nursing and National Center for Women & Policing.
3) Accept the challenges of working in a non-traditional field. Individuals in NTO often report a sense of isolation at work since they may be the only individual of their gender. Doubt may creep into your thoughts, decreasing your self-confidence. You may even wonder if you were a “token” who was hired simply because of your gender rather than your qualifications. Train yourself to refute this irrational thinking.
Individuals in NTOs may also suffer the same mockery that Greg experiences. Even worse, they are often the victims of discrimination, glass ceilings, and/or harassment. [Hollywood has effectively portrayed this in films such as North Country and Mona Lisa Smile.] Take action if you are the victim of or observe this behavior.
4) Gain exposure to non-traditional work environments. Conduct informational interviews or job shadows. Volunteer. Pursue internships or summer job opportunities. This will not only build your resume and network, but you will also be able to confirm or disconfirm your goals.
5) Celebrate the benefits of enrolling in a NTO. Not only will you find fulfilling work, but you are also opening the doors to others. For women, it also often means higher wages and more autonomy.
6) Remember that the labor market is always changing. In fact, many occupations have become more gender-neutral (Bureau of Labor, 2004)
Finally, whether you have selected a NTO or not, you are obligated to prevent the perpetuation of stereotypes. We can smile as Greg tries to remain in the circle of trust with his father-in-law, but we are each responsible for changing the cultural norms that contribute to the ridicule of his career choice.