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Working In a Male Dominated Field

November 13, 2012

I’ve posted about this before, but the topic was revived by Fabulously Broke’s perplexing post citing some disadvantages of working in male dominated jobs.   (“Perplexing” is the most diplomatic way I can describe it.)

Her argument focuses on hard physical labor jobs, like garbage men or working in the North Dakota oil fields.  For the record, neither my husband nor I would like to end the day smelling like garbage, thanks.

An oil rig worker, which she cites as making an average salary of nearly $100k, is ranked among the 10 worst jobsThe $100k “average salary” includes highly skilled scientific oil rig workers, and the lowest skilled “oil rig” jobs only pull in ~$35 a year (though you can make $65k with < 1 year experience).

I’m not saying I would never do those jobs, but… OK, I probably never would do that job!  Most men would probably never do that job either!  If I could get by on less money and have an easier job, that would be my choice.  That is also the same choice all of my male & female relatives living near the oil fields have made!  While the rampant sexism in those jobs is NOT OK, focusing only on these jobs misses the point.

Engineering is male-dominated.  I’ve found it to be a fantastic career.  I don’t smell like garbage, work in desolate places, nor lift heavy items.  (Neither do my male colleagues!)  Maybe it is my company, my managers, or the liberal California culture, or perhaps I’ve just been lucky, but I don’t find it unfriendly to women at all.  I’ve felt there is a sincere effort to make the job friendly towards people, women included.  Some working mothers arrange alternative schedules, and others do not.   Some women and men don’t have kids at all!  Few men have alternate schedules, but a male colleague may have to leave early to pick up a kid, and no one raises an eyebrow.  Sure, there are some jerks, but I assume they are equally jerk-like to all and I don’t take it to heart.    Yes, I actively keep watch for being pushed into a helper role (which is distinct from being a mentee or in a learning role), but it hasn’t happened at all in my new job.   Ambitious women and men alike are noticed and given leadership opportunities.  I’ve even came across not one, but several female role models in the past year!

So why aren’t more women pursuing engineering?  Why aren’t more women in the top ranks of companies?  How about in consulting?  Or working investment banking?   (By the way, Shawanda does address this in a comment, and suggests that maybe the long hours are not good for raising a family.  The internet can make me so stabby sometimes!)

I don’t have many answers here.  Part of it is the culture and the expectation on the women to head up the child rearing while men are off the hook.  (But maybe you’ll be lucky and your boss will totally understand and let you go home early to make dinner!)  Part of it is the crazy hours needed to advance, and the lack of husbands willing to be a support system for a high powered career woman, compared to the number of women who are willing to fill a similar role for a career man.  Part of it is biology – though I truly think this is the smallest part.  No matter how egalitarian my husband is, we can’t divide up a pregnancy (“I get the first 4.5 months, you get the last!”).

There are a lot of factors, and I’m doing my small part to help by being an example, talking about it, and encouraging women to pursue STEM careers.

So, maybe I don’t have a solution, and maybe this problem will be around a long time.  However, I do know that brushing the issue aside by saying, “hey, no woman would WANT that job anyway!” is perplexing ridiculous and offensive.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. November 13, 2012 6:23 am


    I think we DON’T push young women into STEM professions because we tell them things like: it’s dirty, it’s heavy, it’s rough, it’s tough, it’s too hard, there’s too much math or science … all that stuff turns girls off if they are pre-disposed to feel like it isn’t feminine to be in those roles.

    (And yes, girls DO want to be feminine. I definitely want to be seen as a woman, even more so when I was a little girl who wanted to wear dresses all the time.)

    Personally, I relish being the only woman sometimes. It makes them realize that men don’t have the monopoly on brains, and women in these professions aren’t a bunch of marshmallows.

    It has really only been a short amount of time since the revolution as well. Keep in mind that women didn’t really work in the past, and weren’t allowed to be in more men-only roles. Just watching Mad Men reminds me of that.

  2. November 13, 2012 6:26 am

    I agree with you. I work in investment banking and I am one of the only women. Thinking that someone wouldn’t want this job (or the others) and that’s the reason is stupid.

  3. November 13, 2012 8:13 am

    I thought the most perplexing thing about that post was that the REAL FB actually works in a male-dominated profession! The posts that she wrote before she sold the site were in complete opposition to this most recent one, and were thoughtful and well defended instead of just picking careers that no one, man or woman, want to do.

    • November 13, 2012 8:16 am

      I agree – I’ve stopped reading the blog since I couldn’t figure out a way to read the REAL FB’s posts.

  4. November 13, 2012 8:16 am

    I agree with you! Engineering is incredibly flexible and it is so rewarding. You definitely have to have the right mind for that and I think that’s not common, even among men.

    Hah, dividing up a pregnancy 🙂 He can still help with stuff that you eventually can’t do since you’ll get so big eventually.

    I don’t have answers either…but I wish it was a different way.

  5. November 13, 2012 8:46 pm

    I don’t know of an oil rig worker that would do that job for only $35K. It costs a lot to live in Western ND. It’s pretty easy to make $70K+ or $100K+ with experience. You can make $45K working at Pizza Hut in Western ND. That said, I think that women that can successfully navigate those fields do very well.

  6. November 18, 2012 10:28 am

    I am a female software engineer, and the software/IT industry is very male-dominated. When I started in my career, I went looking for other “women in IT” groups to see if I could find other women in my industry.

    What I found, over and over, were groups of women complaining about how they were marginalized in the industry, how nobody took them seriously, and how it was SO HARD to be a woman in this industry. Stories were brought up over and over of men (customers and coworkers) being unwilling to believe that they could possibly know the answer/do the job.

    Ultimately I gave up – and have stopped trying to find any groups of women in my industry, because that has not been my experience, at all. I work with men, nearly exclusively – both my coworkers and my customers – and in twelve years, and over a thousand different people that I’ve worked with to solve problems, I have *yet* to have anyone make any comment or even insinuate that I am not able to do my job because I’m a woman.

    I was recently in our colocation facility, fixing our computers (hard drives needed to be replaced). I was actually approached by a man, who said he had *never* seen a woman in the building before (working on computers) and wondered what my experience with this career was like, since his wife was taking courses and wanted to get into the IT industry, and he was wondering what she might expect.

    I guess I was lucky – I grew up with a mom who told me I could do ANYTHING I wanted – so it never occurred to me that I was going into an industry that was male-dominated – I just found it interesting.

  7. November 20, 2012 8:54 pm

    I can’t even with that.

    “You might break a nail! You have to talk about icky stuff like football! All men could beat up all women in a fight!”

    Yours was a thoughtful and polite rebuttal. All I can come up with is, “B**** be crazy.”


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