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Do Gender Values Limit Future Growth and Development?

March 13 2017 - by Carole Houlihan, CLP's Gender & Diversity Specialist

Due to shifts in the global economy from trade and technology, the global economy is rapidly changing. New industries, which require different skills and mindsets, are popping up; old industries are changing or disappearing altogether.

Does gender socialization limit the region’s ability to respond to and develop new opportunities? Do the skills and aspirations of young people entering the labour force match the opportunities and areas of future growth?   Discussions of gender stereotyping often focus on getting more young women into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) fields. But what about young men getting into “non-traditional” fields?  

A recent New York Time article entitled, Why Men Don’t Want the Jobs Done Mostly by Women[1], discussed the growth in healthcare related fields.  With an aging population and promotion of Health Tourism by many countries—including Grenada, Barbados, Jamaica, and St. Lucia—this is also likely to be a growth sector in the Caribbean.

Currently, most of the jobs in the health care field are done by women.  In the US, men who are losing employment in blue collar industrial work, are reluctant to take so-called “pink-collar jobs”, even though these jobs have more security and wage growth.  The jobs are women’s work, which has always been devalued in the American labor market. The article notes:

Women have always entered male-dominated fields more than men enter female-dominated ones. There are now many female lawyers, but male nurses are still rare. One reason is that jobs done by women, especially caregiving  jobs, have always had lower pay and lower status. Yet when men…enter female-dominated fields, they are paid more and promoted faster than women, a phenomenon known as the glass escalator. Much of men’s resistance to pink-collar jobs is tied up in the culture of masculinity…Women are assumed to be empathetic and caring; men are supposed to be strong, tough and able to support a family.

Gender values are changing. I recently spoke to several young men working as nurses who spoke proudly of intellectually challenging, rewarding and important their work is.

How can non-traditional career choices for young men and young women be supported?

How well are public policy, education and social values adapting to new economic opportunities?

What is your experience? Are attitudes changing among young men and women? 




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Julie Meeks - Reply

Very thoughtful blog here by Carole, thank you.  As we strive to consider the gender implications in our policy making and teaching, it is important to consider both the greater access of females to formerly male dominated fields, and the access of our men to female dominated ones.  It appeared that once women enter a field which was previously dominated by men, that field would lose status (teaching, now medicine?).  If the reverse would hold, perhaps encouraging greater numbers of men to the "caring" professions might increase their status!  As an aside, the men I met in nursing (I used to teach BSc nurses for some years) were almost always psychiatric nurses.  Their brawn was needed to "manage" the patients.

Carole Houlihan - Reply

Thanks for your  thoughts, Julie. You are well placed to see the effects of gender segregation in tertiary education and in the workplace. It would seem that  there is a need for a broad public policy discussion about the future of work in a digital age with a rapidly aging population. And there are the un

How well are governments  and think tanks able to predict labour market trends and skills that will be required in the near and longer-term future, and  how well are educational institutions and society  able to adapt? Is the time lag  for decision making shortening, and if so, what changes are needed at all levels?   

Erica P. Harris - Reply

I recently browsed across a video where young boys and girls were asked what they wanted to be, the choices were the tradional teacher, model, vet, etc. The children were then shown thousands of STEM careers displayed on a screens/walls around them. In the short time it took them to view a few and recognise the sheer number, you could see the change when they became aware of the possibilities. The majority made a change or indicated they wanted to change their response. If they don't know, how can they know they don't know? I'm in no way knocking tradition nor belittling any job role, however we must see that the world has changed in the past 30-50 years. While we may be proud of our current careers/professional paths, there is so much more available and it is simply not fair to limit those coming after us. So we need to sensitise ourselves to what's out there and start fostering their curiosity and interest.

Governments (developing ones especicially) need to change the way they think and do business. Their citizens are looking for new ways to enagage not only with each other and with their governments. Useful data Information needs to be made available and accessible in plain English. They need to start asking "new" questions to be better equipped to respond or even before the "new citizen" makes their requests. Once the strategy changes, policies, education and values will also change and  they should eb able to identify new opportunities to support the new strategies.

What I have observed is that children who have been exposed to the more of the non-traditional career options through their parents,family friends or research are more inclined to explore non-traditional roles, with only a secondary consideration to their gender. However, the digital divide and in some instances culture and religion still limits accessibility to information that can bring about any change. The generation(s) to come will focus less on gender and more on ability. However as as long as we have people who still think "traditionally" in the decision making roles, and who are not willing to change or be open to anything else, there will always be a stigma on certain career paths.

Carole Houlihan - Reply

Thanks for your insights, Erica. 

I recall seeing a similar video (from England?) and being struck by the quick shift in the attitudes of the children when they see new opportunities.  

I think the points that you make emphasise the need to involve current educators (including pre-school, elemetary  and secondary teachers), as well as other young women and men  in the discussion in an active way. By the time children are making choices for tertiary education or skills training, their minds are made up!

Often, I am asked by parents  if I can give career/study advice to their  teenagers. My response is that I am a product of the "old economy" and that the youth  know way more about career possibilities of the future than I do! Actually I suggest that they wait until they are in the post-secondary institutions and interact with their instructors and peers before making firm choices.

We are often unaware of the opportunities for education, training, and work until we are exposed to them by others