How to Improve Equality, Access Among Gender-Dominated Jobs

Some jobs are dominated by one gender. How do gendered jobs contribute to economic inequality between men and women? And what can executives do to solve the issue?
Gendered jobs

Jobs such as nursing or trucking can be viewed as gendered professions. Even though the specialized skills can be taught to anyone, more women tend to work as nurses while more men are employed in trucking jobs.

“We tend to put gender on careers and jobs in the same manner as we would any other aspect of identity,” said Terri Boyer, assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations and executive director of SMLR’s Center for Women and Work, which conducts research and provides education to promote economic and social equity for women workers.

When people think of nurses, they tend to think of women. Meanwhile, “when you say ‘truck driver,’ most people immediately think of a man or someone with masculine qualities, despite the fact that driving a truck or providing health care has nothing to do with the physical gender of a person,” Boyer said.

Nursing, specifically, is seen as a caregiving role, which society assumes is a quality women possess, and which also is valued less in terms of compensation, Boyer said. Even though men make up only 10 percent of registered nurses in the U.S., they see promotions and raises at a faster rate than their female peers. According to research in JAMA, male salaries were higher than female salaries, especially in areas of ambulatory care (a difference of $7,678) and for anesthetists (a $17,290 difference).

Male– and female-dominated industries can have one group making up sometimes more than 90 percent of those performing an occupation. According to Catalyst, a nonprofit research and advocacy group, the most male-dominated jobs in the U.S. are brick masons, mobile equipment service technicians, electrical power-line installers, truck mechanics and crane operators. In each of these, women make up less than 1 percent of workers.

The most female-dominated occupations are preschool and kindergarten teachers, speech-language pathologists, dental hygienists and administrative assistants, the Catalyst research shows.

Why Does This Matter?

Firms tend to be more profitable when their workforces are more diverse, research shows. For instance, McKinsey & Co.’s January 2015 “Why Diversity Matters” report found that “companies in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15 percent more likely to have financial returns above their respective national industry medians.”

In leadership roles, gender diversity’s returns went even further. In the U.K., a 10 percent increase of gender diversity on the executive team led to an increase of a company’s earnings by 3.5 percent.

Gendered jobs also contribute to the discrepancies seen with the gender pay gap, according to The New York Times, which highlighted in March 2016 that Cornell University research found “the difference between the occupations and industries in which men and women work has recently become the single largest cause of the gender pay gap, accounting for more than half of it.”

More equitable representation could also help mend talent shortages U.S. companies experience, said James Peoples Jr., professor of economics in the College of Letters and Science at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, who also specializes in transportation and labor economics. By men and women feeling that they have more jobs open to them, more people could then participate in the labor force, thus growing gross domestic product, or GDP, more than its current rate of 1.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Economic Analysis.

What Can Business Leaders Do?

Solving the problem of having a homogeneous workforce is difficult. “This isn’t a silver bullet issue,” said Rutgers’ Boyer, explaining that although there are actions to take, there is no single solution. The first step for business leaders is awareness, she said. Without an understanding of how gender influences recruiting and retention, discrepancies in gendered jobs will be harder to solve. Having people on staff to help understand it and implement changes will help leaders immensely, Boyer said.

Furthermore, jobs tend to be colored along gender lines to schoolchildren. By sharing career information with educational institutions, business leaders can help round out the data available to students, helping them to see more than the gender in jobs. Although this requires more of a long-term commitment, it does help with the talent pipeline. “This is their future workforce,” Boyer said.

Another way to attract more people to a job is to cater to their needs. Trucking, for instance, is working toward gender parity by appealing to women through efforts such as providing more practice time in driving simulators, adding female driver liaisons and support groups, sexual harassment awareness and self-defense classes, reported. Because the positions in long-haul trucking mean workers are away from family for long periods of time, the industry is pivoting toward letting existing drivers train their spouses and work together. Some carriers are also funding scholarships for female high school graduates and those seeking career changes, the article went on to say.

Efforts such as these hope to increase female drivers’ share of the workforce, especially as women are exiting the job. Between 2014 and 2015, the job lost 10 percent of its female workers, leaving 177,000 female drivers in the field, according to

Once workers enter a field, the issue moves toward retention, with policies around equitable pay a point of focus. Business leaders should share with their employees how to advance their careers and, as a result, their pay. Human resources professionals should examine compensation practices for equity issues and address policies to fix any discrepancies they see, Boyer said.

One reason for the inequities could be that men are 16 percent more likely to negotiate their salaries than women, and men are three times more likely to actually receive a raise from their negotiation, according to a Glassdoor survey. This is one factor contributing to the pay gap between men and women widening as they age.

Reddit, the information-sharing site, did away with salary negotiations for new recruits, according to a 2015 NPR article, “Some Companies Fight Pay Gap By Eliminating Salary Negotiations.” Elevations Credit Union also sets its salaries based on title, and the employer publishes that online, thus ending most negotiations. According to its now-former head of human resources, Annette Matthies, the practice improves retention and recruitment, thus increasing company profits.

Also, it’s low pay, not motherhood, that tends to drive women from their employers, thus decreasing women’s representation in many professions. According to ICEDR, or International Consortium for Executive Development Research, young women cite the desire to find a higher-paying job, a lack of learning and development and a shortage of interesting work as reasons for switching jobs, according to ICEDR’s “What Executives Need to Know About Millennial Women.”

According to a report, “Gender Pay Inequality: Consequences for Women, Families and the Economy,” from the Joint Economic Committee in the U.S. Congress, women make up 48 percent of the private-sector workforce, but only 4 percent of S&P 500 CEOs. The report went on to say that “diverse boards often better reflect the composition of a given company’s pool of employees, as well as its customer base. Increasing diversity on corporate boards also can lead to better decision-making by allowing members to consider a greater range of perspectives.”

To help women stay in the workforce while still having families, companies should examine policies to encourage employee retention and pay parity after childbirth. Women who have children earn about 3 percent less than childless female workers, which is not a result seen by men, according to the aforementioned report. In fact, fathers earn about 15 percent more than men without kids.

Leaders should make a conscious effort to have women in senior leadership, said Mary Gatta, associate professor of sociology at City University of New York’s Guttman Community College. This means that company policies should be more supportive of women and families, allowing women to start or grow their families while still climbing the corporate ladder, increasing their pay and thriving in their careers.

Paid time off and access to paid family leave — for both women and men — will help with retention, experts said. Still, simply offering paid leave isn’t enough.

“We do know that women tend to still bear the brunt of a lot of the domestic work of caring for children or elderly parents and relatives,” Gatta said, adding that this norm impacts the career progress for women, who take reduced hours or time away from the workforce to care for family.

According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, “among parents with at least some work experience, mothers with children under age 18 were about three times as likely as fathers to say that being a working parent made it harder for them to advance in their job or career (51 percent vs. 16 percent).”

Even when companies offer paid time off for these situations, the policies might be empty promises; by using the policies, workers could face fewer promotions, according to Gwendolyn Combs, associate professor of management at University of Nebraska at Lincoln. “The [company] culture needs to be one that shows the employee that the policy is there, and the intention is for the policy to be used — not for the policy to be abused — but the policy to be used when it is necessary,” she said.

RELATED: 10 Steps To Create a Paid Parental Leave Policy

To identify more ways to achieve gender balance in the workplace, Rutgers’ Boyer suggested holding focus groups to gain an understanding of the minority gender. Ask what they think the organization can do to make the environment more welcoming and how to get more people like them to apply. Also, ask about the barriers they feel are in place that exclude people like them from applying. Then, make changes like the trucking industry has, thus catering to groups a given company is hoping to acquire.

While this can be beneficial, it should go deeper than just gender, University of Nebraska Lincoln’s Combs said. It would be better to disaggregate the data gathered and focus on the needs and challenges of all groups. “You have to crack the nut,” she said. “You have to peel the onion to look at the various layers and look at the various strata of individuals that you have working within your organization in order to help the organization be more successful in its diversity and inclusion initiative.”

Once an organization finds ways to help their workers and move toward more gender parity, it’s important not to apply these solutions across the board, Combs cautioned. There are cultural nuances that could be quite different country to country. “You cannot necessarily take what works in the U.S. or another country and think that it will resolve or begin to address the issues in another,” Combs said.

Lauren Dixon is an associate editor at Talent Economy. To comment, email