Jobs: Women’s Work - Removing The Pink Collar

By Sandra Fletcher

 

Did you know that until World War 1, almost 100 years ago, North American women very rarely worked outside the home? When they did, most often they were servants, seamstresses or teachers. These jobs in the caring and education sectors are often thought of as “women’s work”.

However, now-a-days, lots of women work in non-traditional careers. Adapting to them certainly has presented benefits and challenges for women. What is a non-traditional career? In general, a non-traditional career is defined as one where more than 75 percent of the workforce is of the gender opposite one's own. Basically, it’s a career that is either female-dominated or male-dominated.

For many years now, there has been a push by the government to move more women into non-traditional careers.

Non-traditional or “blue collar” careers typically pay 20-30 percent higher wages (or more) than the traditional “pink-collar” jobs women most often pursue.

If you are interested in training or re-training (Second Career) the Province of Ontario has training funding available for career training and apprenticeships in the skilled trades. All funds are available to approved, qualified applicants regardless of gender.

The good news is that research shows that women are increasingly moving into, and succeeding in, non-traditional careers. However, job-seekers considering a non-traditional career path should weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision about whether to pursue it.

Advantages

One of the big advantages of working in non-traditional careers, that is also potentially one of the biggest pitfalls, is that people in non-traditional jobs will sometimes receive more attention – think of the lone female crew member of a construction team. If you are doing well, that attention is generally good because all workers want to be recognized for their hard work; but if you are struggling, that attention can create more problems and add to the pressure to perform.

Another advantage to pursuing a non-traditional career is the impact on others as a strong female role-model. The first women to succeed in a career can open doors for others.

Take Roberta Bondar, the first Canadian woman astronaut. Since her initial trip to space in 1992 there have been more than four dozen female astronauts. Dr. Bondar was chosen to go into space not because she is a woman but because she headed up a research team. In addition to being an astronaut she is a doctor of neuroscience and neurology and holds many post secondary degrees.

Not that everyone wants to go into space! In fact, for women, a bigger pay cheque is often a great motivation to pursue a non-traditional role, since men typically earn much higher salaries. Although the concept of equal pay for work of equal value has been a well established Canadian ideal, Statistics Canada reports that a wage difference still exists between men and women working in the same fields.

Pitfalls

With all the benefits of a non-traditional career also comes a set of challenges. Probably the biggest disadvantage is the lack of female mentors in non-traditional careers. Mentors are people in higher positions within your career field, and are important to your success, as they can guide you, protect you, and help you along in your career.

One worry can be the potential for negative feelings from co-workers, especially for female workers. You can be seen as taking the “spot” reserved for a male, or worse, a “token” worker hired to avoid lawsuits or appease special-interest groups. And in the worst case scenario, these negative feelings can lead to harassment from coworkers.

Sadly, another area of concern is that you may have little or no support from family and friends who may question your motives for entering a male-dominated career. Perhaps they may not understand the pressures and problems you face in a non-traditional career.

This can be more of a problem for immigrant women from countries in which the role of woman is to be a helper, wife and mother. Stepping out of traditional roles and culturally accepted, stereotypical roles requires inner strength and support from educators, mentors, friends and family.

Finally, in certain traditionally male careers, the physical part of the job can be very demanding. A challenge for women in these industries can be that some non-traditional careers impose both mental and physical challenges that may be overwhelming.

If you are considering a non-traditional career, perhaps the best way to determine whether you really want to pursue the career is to gather as much information as possible and gain hands on experience wherever possible. Consider informational interviews and job shadowing with people who are successful in their careers. It’s through these activities that you can learn more about their successes, challenges and frustrations and see first-hand what a career might be like for you.

The bottom line? It’s important for all women to be aware of all of their career options.

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