Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Social Factors that Influence Women's Career Choices

A preference for a career based on beauty is common among young girls.
Societal Factors that Affect a Women's Choice in Career

There are many social factors that affect and influence a woman's personal identity and ultimately her career decisions and preferences. For centuries, women were limited to managing the household and living a life focused on family. In the United States, women began entering the workplace at a rapid pace during WWII to seek financial independence, obtain professional and intellectual development and assist their husbands in financially supporting the household. Women are slowly beginning to dominate the workplace with 74 percent of U.S. women working full time according to the U.S Department of Labor. Even as women freely enter the workplace, they are now faced with the issue of being trapped in pink collar careers that were traditionally forced on women.

Childhood Socialization
From identifying the female babies in pink clothing to giving little girls dolls, gender roles and the expectations of society are established before the child can gain understanding of herself or learn about her individual personality. Social norms play a significant role in designating a girl’s view of herself and future role in society. Families unknowingly or purposefully enforce the stereotypical behavior as the nurturer, to be soft and interested in service and/or human affairs. These girls are encouraged to seek careers choices as a teacher, secretary or nurse. Even within schools, girls are socialized by their peers to avoid the sciences and math. If a girl follows her interest in science or math, she risks becoming ostracized and ridiculed. The punishment for not abiding by the gender roles is harsh. Teachers may feel more comfortable leading girls to traditional career paths. By the time girls enter high school; their math and science skills may be severely undeveloped compared to their male peers. This further decreases the desire and confidence to obtain a college degree or career based on science. On the other hand many schools and teachers are combating these barriers by instituting programs to encourage girls to pursue math, science or other nontraditional fields. Exposure to a variety of environments through extracurricular activities, hobbies and educational activities such as field trips can have a major positive impact on future career aspirations. Through this change in social environment, girls are able to expand their interests.

Role Models
Women have been historically limited in career options and therefore future generations have a narrow perspective of types of admirable women. Women are more able to envision success to in these pink collar jobs due to the constant exposure of other successful females in these positions. Females are more likely to learn about the achievements of women that have excelled in traditional careers, such as the celebrated army nurses or inspiring teachers. Instead of creating a new path for themselves, many may desire to excel in the same career choice. Society also diminishes the role of women who have contributed to science or math. Consequently girls perceive that they would be more appreciated and personally fulfilled in pink collar careers. However a woman's direct environment could alter these views. For example, if math and science careers are the norm in her circle of admired friends then this increases of her chances of pursuing a math or science based career. Girls are also indirectly affected by the career choice of their mothers, female relatives or female family friends. Girls may grow more familiar with and develop a sentimental attachment to those career choices. The sense of pride surrounding the career choices of the significant women in her life plays a role in directing her future career choice. The choice of role model depends on the values of the individual woman. If the woman values power then she will seek role models in powerful positions that will serve as a guide towards that career. On the other hand a woman interested in humanitarian work will surround herself in activities that will enable her to focus women dedicated to service and follow in their footsteps.

Moving up the career ladder may be difficult for women that are trying to balance a family and career. Especially since women are expected to take on most of the responsibility in raising the family. Therefore women are more inclined to choose careers that are historically more mom friendly. Women in non-traditional careers may already feel the pressure of discrimination. The careers gaps from starting a family elevates the stress. Women who foresee these issues may avoid taking nontraditional careers to have a better chance at growing professionally. 

Women that seek to excel in nontraditional careers may face intense discrimination which discourages their entry and professional progress. For example, women that desire to become an electrician or construction worker may be ignored, taken less seriously, have their achievements disregard, refused an apprenticeship or employment and sexually harassed. After years of sluggish advancement or inhibited opportunities, women may give up and seek employment in women dominated career sector. In other instances the discrimination may cause some women to develop a poor self-image. Poor self-image can lower performance and decrease productivity with further sabotages her chance for success. The fear of discrimination and isolation prevents some women from attempting to obtain a career in the nontraditional careers. Women may incorporate negative stereotypes of themselves into their thought patterns and believe that they are true. Other women enjoy challenges, crusading for justice and breaking barriers. The desire to go against mainstream society and prove others wrong can be a strong motivator to pursue certain careers.For example, a woman may feel a sense of accomplishment being the first women as a senator in her state or the first woman as a CEO of a large corporation.

The Media
The media plays a major role in defining social roles and establishing social norms. The media also spreads information about women's capabilities and preferences to the public. Consequently TV shows, movies and literature portray the ideal women that other women should emulate. Often times these ideal women are in positions within fields that have been historically filled by women. Society internalizes these views from the media, accept them as truth and continue to uphold them throughout their lifetime.

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Joycee Benavides said...

Humm. In no time I felt this was so generalized then I kept reading for the reason why but no matter. This ad makes me feel lucky for my misfortune of growing up (in Silicon Valley S.F. So. bay area) thru the foster care system of the 60' & 70s. Taken away from my mom at 3 I dealt with raising myself by hiding from people so in school I'd skip playing at recess by hanging out with Jeffery a geeky kid who would be amazed by things he would pick up off the ground like a rock or anything. (Turns out his dad was a scientist who worked out of a lab in his basement & he wanted to be like him) I found interest in analyzing objects too. I'd question logic in relationships between things & what not.

Never went to college until now (at 50) I choose something many (tech giant) designers over the yrs said I'd be great at, since I'd catch their printed circuit board design mistakes & save them money before the parts were made.

So finally I'm learning Environmental Science/ Sustainable Energy Management (lots of woman) & 3D modeling (very few women) tools to create solutions. I want to be in the front lines of leading the economy in sustainability.
Ref: ERT PDF: Co-Creating a Sustainable Energy Economy.

My daughter (my only kid) liked that I questioned things & rejected notions of being a sponge for pop culture, old fashioned cultures, religion, & more. You know its the old think for yourself adage. She just got her Masters is Education by the way. She teaches youth at a non for profit organic farm she help start. & other fill-in jobs until this city (San Jose) begins to hiring teachers again. She will be teaching critical thinking to elementary school kids.

I guess I have a better understanding of why many other woman I meet are in medical fields, cooking, art & commercial art.

I just thought of something? It's time to make new series of reusable DTP images for corporate promos of women in Science, Tech, & Math you know the kind selected from for Website promos & corporate reports. Not enough women in those images. That actually how I ran into this was researching a job lead, which lead to business news with lead to you.

Thanks for the blog Diana Heath. I'll keep this site book marked.

Dianne Heath said...

@ Joycee Benavides
I'm really glad that you enjoyed my post! I actually added extensive edits to it about 2 weeks ago to provide a more balanced view.

I love that you added another dimension to the blog post by sharing your experience. In your situation, your interest in sciences/math grew naturally through friendship & environment. It seems like your interest in math and science became intrinsic and unforced. Perhaps educators could learn from this. I also agree with rejecting harmful notions in society. Perhaps curious & intelligent women like yourself can lead the way in promoting more images of women in science/math to help other impressionable girls realize that they can take a different approach to life. I really appreciate your thoughtful comment!

Mikhaila Leid said...

This is a very great article! I'm doing Sociology in high school in the Caribbean and this is on par with everything I learnt about education and female gender roles. It even expands on the points that society does play a role in female career choices or even other roles. This not only applies to the US but also the Caribbean and other parts of the world. In my country everything said in the blog post is evident.

Dianne Heath said...

@ jacobsmacob

Thank you so much for commenting. It's amazing how similar (or even identical) the roles of women are across the globe. I believe that evolutionary psychology explains more in-depth about this subject...however since that is super deep I will wait until I am more knowledgeable to do a post on it. Thank you for your input! I'm envious that you are taking sociology in high school, I had to wait until college,lol.

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