Stories and statistics on gender and the workplace almost always focus on the number of women entering male-dominated fields – like business or finance – but rarely they talk about the opposite phenomenon. That said, a popular story this week in The New York Times reported on the increasing trend of men entering traditionally female-dominated professions.
On the surface, seeing the breakdown of gender stereotypes is always refreshing, and it certainly feels like an automatic step forward in gender equality. However, simply because men are entering traditional female jobs as women are entering traditional male jobs does not mean that equality in the work place will automatically follow by virtue of the changing composition.
Men are still given preference in hiring for these positions, they’re paid higher than women in these fields, and white males tend to advance far faster in the management ladder than their female counterparts; the same underlying structural problems exist even in these female-dominated fields. Same problems, different professions.
Though some argue that the recession is playing a big role in men's professional shift, it's important to remember that women have, for the most part, felt the effects of the recession and unemployment more acutely than men. Women have actually lost jobs during the recovery while men are gaining jobs; women’s unemployment has increased since the recovery began – from a rate of 7.6% in June 2009, to 7.9% in December 2011 – and women gained just 3% of the 1.4 million jobs added to the economy during that same time.
Coupled with the fact that the focus on job creation by policy makers and candidates tends to target highly male-dominated fields – such as recovering manufacturing jobs, and funding new infrastructure projects – thus benefitting men disproportionately, it's clear that professional women are still being left behind by comparison.
Considering that this trend of male entry into "pink collar" jobs also started in 2000 many years before the recession, it's not something that will just fade away as the economy strengthens. While this certainly is a great shift for our society towards a new, less rigid understanding of which jobs are for men and which jobs are for women, we still need more focus on equal job creation, equal pay, and other solid policy changes rather than relying on workplace role reversal to create more gender equality in the professional world.