Fashion is for girls, and construction is for boys (overwhelmingly)

7 Aug

A colleague sent me this snapshot of the female-male gap in college majors (http://www.bachelorsdegreeonline.com/blog/2012/10-college-majors-with-the-biggest-gender-gap/#.T_EgULUjF_Y):

The data, culled from Katie Bardaro of Payscale, Inc., shows us dramatic gap in who pursues nursing versus mechanical engineering, and fashion versus physics. No big surprises, right? The numbers reinforce social assumptions about the color (pink or blue) of certain fields. That’s the thing about stereotypes: they’re founded on repeated and accumulated experience. This isn’t to say they’re absolutely true (or reflect anything right), but in order to combat stereotypes, we need to look at the truths and trends upon which they’re built, and commit to creating more diverse truths that reflect, include and invite people beyond the usual suspects.

Interestingly, Bardaro’s research points to choice of major as a critical factor in determining pay for women versus men (as opposed to discrimination when you’re hired or come up for a performance review). Bardaro writes,

Simply put, women tend to choose majors that pay a lower national median pay… No one definitively knows why women tend to choose lower paying majors, although some research has been done on the topic, including this piece from the economists at the New York Federal Reserve. Their key finding is that men tend to care more about money and income potential when choosing a major, while women place a higher importance on non-pecuniary aspects (e.g. work schedule, enjoying coursework, gaining parents’ approval, etc.).

To address the gender pay gap, we now have to turn our focus from “equal pay for equal work,” to erasing the explicit or implicit biases that cause women to cluster in lower paying majors and jobs, and men to cluster in more dangerous jobs and majors they don’t actually like just for the money (http://blogs.payscale.com/ask_dr_salary/2009/12/do-men-or-women-choose-majors-to-maximize-income.html).

Part of this bias awareness work includes understanding how we socialize boys and girls regarding money: what we teach about financial responsibilities, expectations and possibilities based on sex. As an example, and purely anecdotally, I’ve observed that most girls and women I know talk about financial independence as our goal. In contrast, many men and even adolescent boys I’ve met hold a standard for themselves of being able to support a family one day. It makes sense that this difference in whom you think you are or will be responsible for supporting could impact your choice of major and career.

And while I’m not sure about our ability to actually “erase” our biases, I agree that only by admitting and then examining them can we choose to impact some of the more subtle but still potent sociocultural origins of the gender pay gap.

** Thanks to FC for the link.

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