The Representation, Perception and Treatment of Women in Male-Dominated Industries

In recent years, there has been a push for more women to pursue STEM fields. With organizations like Girls Who Code and STEM for her, our society has made efforts to break stereotypes regarding gender and field of study. Despite these efforts, however, we do have a long way to go, as there are several issues faced by women who work in male-dominated fields. In light of women’s history month, we must acknowledge the obstacles these women face in the jobs they choose to pursue.

Representation in Fields

Firstly, women are not adequately represented in many of these fields. While making up more than half the labor force in the United States and receiving about 60 percent of advanced degrees, they are not represented effectively in certain fields like finance or technology. Taking computer and math jobs, for instance, only ​26 percent​ of these workers are female. Though there could be a number of factors regarding these gaps, research has shown that women often avoid these fields as a result of lower confidence in fields like science, math, and technology. Though often beyond capable of succeeding, women seem to suffer from self-doubt much more frequently in such subjects, leading them to be hesitant to pursue careers in these fields.

Unhappiness, Stress, and Anxiety

Beyond representation, there are issues regarding the wellbeing of women in these fields. Research​ suggests that they often face more negative feelings in regards to work. More specifically, women who worked in male-dominated professions experienced higher levels of unpleasantness and lower levels of meaningfulness when compared to women in female-dominated jobs. In addition, ​sources​ say women in these industries are more likely to be exposed to higher levels of workplace stress, displayed by physical signs such as abnormal fluctuations in their patterns of the stress hormone cortisol. Furthermore, ​studies​ have also shown that women working in male-dominated fields are more likely to report anxiety or mood disorders than those in female-dominated industries. Though subject to many factors, the mental wellbeing and satisfaction of these women are often worsened by specific stressors they experience in their respective fields.

Perception and Stereotyping

An example of a stress factor is the social perception of women working in male-dominated fields. As discovered in a ​study​ from the Journal of Applied Psychology, women who are successful in these careers are often viewed negatively. Students were asked to describe fictional employees with varying levels of competence and skill. The genders of these employees were randomized among the students. The study found that female employees who performed well in their positions were described with less likeability than male employees with the same descriptions. Successful men were more commonly viewed as pleasant, while successful women were more likely to be characterized as unlikeable, unpleasant, and untrustworthy. These views are seen in many areas beyond controlled studies, as successful women in these fields often go against what society’s stereotypes and preconceptions are. This is not only entirely unfair, but it hinders the progress of women in these fields.

Harassment

Finally, the issue of harassment in the workplace only gets worse when women are in male-dominated fields. Based on ​survey​ research, women in these jobs are more likely to identify sexual harassment as a problem in their workplace. To be more specific, 49 percent of women in male-dominated fields stated it was an issue, while only about 34 percent stated the same when looking at jobs that were either gender-balanced or female-dominated. In addition, 28 percent in male-dominated jobs indicated that they had personally dealt with sexual harassment, while this dropped to 20 percent for female-dominated jobs. This is a problem that extends to college education, as women who pursue male-dominated majors have also reported higher levels of harassment when compared to women in other majors.

Clearly, there are a number of obstacles that women in these careers face. Though our society has made progress in regards to encouraging younger girls to pursue STEM careers, we must recognize this as a more complex issue. Our attitude and treatment towards women in the workplace must be changed on a broader level. To help the issue, we must not only advocate for change, but also be aware of our own biases and behaviors. Whether it be women empowerment efforts in the workplace or simply just more open conversation about these issues, we must take steps towards improvement. The effects of the treatment face, though not always apparent, are very real. These women should be celebrated for breaking barriers, not only during Women’s History Month, but all year round.