WORK-LIFE BALANCE / FEB. 19, 2015
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Does Profession Matter More Than Gender?

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A while ago I read a detailed study looking at personality types around the world, and whether things such as our nationality mattered more than our race or our gender.  It turned out that our employer and their unique culture was actually a better representation of our own personality than almost any other facet of ourselves as human beings.

This is a finding that has been replicated in a study looking at gender and professions.  Whilst research has shown that gender differences aren’t quite as pronounced as the stereotypes suggest, there are nonetheless some distinct differences.  For instance, studies have found that when running is described as a race, females tend to perform worse than they normally would, whilst males seem to perform better.

Likewise, women are generally perceived as being better at understanding emotions, whilst men tend to do well at spatial awareness. The study wanted to test whether these differences are visible within particular professions, or do certain professions attract people with particular traits, regardless of their gender?

For instance, would a female nurse exhibit more feminine traits than a male nurse, or would the fact that they’re both nurses dilute any of the differences their gender might bring to the table?

The researchers explored six professions, including dentistry, teaching and environmental inspecting. Their results suggest that it very much depends on the type of job.

Many professions, for instance, revealed some clear gender differences.  Some 14 percent of the variability found in dentists could be explained by the gender of the dentist.  In other words, if you had a female dentist, it wouldn’t be that odd to expect them to be a bit more empathetic to your feelings.

When it came to teachers of social sciences however, this gender difference fell to just one percent, suggesting that you could expect much the same experience, regardless of the gender of your teacher.

So does this matter?

Well it provides an interesting glimpse into the various professions. For instance, it suggests that social science teaching doesn’t tend to involve many of the traits that are typically used to differentiate the genders.  This contrasts with a profession such as dentistry, which places a strong emphasis on traits such as empathy, but also on traditionally male traits such as prestige and status. Thus it tends to have greater divergence between the genders within the profession.

The study suggests, therefore, that it is very risky to assume that gender differences will cease to exist in particular professions. This is very important when it comes to gender equality as it suggests that just because a woman might be drawn to a stereotypically male and masculine profession, it doesn’t mean that she herself has masculine traits. This in turn means she won’t be immune to any structures or processes that may exist that are biased or discriminatory against feminine traits.  And of course the same will also apply to men entering traditionally feminine professions, such as nursing.

Hopefully, this new insight will go some way to help us craft workplaces that are equal for both genders.

Are you in a career that is not typical for your gender? What has your experience been?

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