Helping Blue-Collar Men Transition into ‘Women’s Work’

Helping Blue-Collar Men Transition into ‘Women’s Work’

In the fast-changing work environment of today, blue-collar jobs are being transformed and displaced by the advent of automation, while many of the fastest-growing jobs are in human-focused fields like health care. These changes have consequences in terms of gender dynamics in the workplace, as the jobs that are disappearing are traditionally “male”, while those that are growing are mostly dominated by women. At the Atlantic, Alana Semuels captures the experience of men in parts of the US where blue-collar work has dried up, as they find themselves shifting into jobs that were once considered “women’s work”:

Janette Dill, a sociology professor at the University of Akron, has found that men gravitate towards a certain kind of health-care job, avoiding the patient-centric kind of work that has traditionally been classified as female— jobs such as home health aides or nursing assistants. Instead, men tend to go work as surgical technologists, radiology technicians, and respiratory therapists. These are jobs that are new enough that they haven’t yet been defined as “women’s” work, Dill said.

These jobs are often portrayed as being technical, rather than nurturing. “There’s not that stigma around this kind of work,” she told me. In 1996, according to Dill, 16 percent of these types of jobs were held by men, but by 2008, that number had risen to 26 percent. The BLS has up-to-date numbers on some such jobs. Its data shows that while in 2016 there were a much greater share of women than men in most health-care support jobs, some occupations had a significant share of men. Men made up almost one-third of technicians in clinical labs, and 35 percent of what the BLS calls “miscellaneous” health technicians.

We’ve read before about how the language used in job descriptions and job advertisements can subtly discourage women and minorities from applying for certain roles; these Rust Belt health sector employers, it would seem, are now facing the opposite challenge. At CEB (now Gartner), our Diversity and Inclusion research practice has received many questions about how to make job descriptions gender-neutral or inclusive and not biased toward men or women. Nursing and teaching are the ones that are mostly referred to as female-biased, with language such as “supportive,” “collaborative” and even “committed” often seen as signaling a “feminine” role. Solving this problem is particularly important for attracting male candidates formerly employed in fields considering masculine, like mining or manufacturing.

There are two ways to reduce this bias in job applications: The first is to screen job descriptions for biased language and the second is to relax unnecessary qualifications, including experience that is not required to excel in the job. While these steps may not solve the problem entirely, as many people already have biases associated with nursing or caregiving, it could open up the opportunities for some of these male workers to branch out into a new occupation.

(CEB Diversity and Inclusion Leadership Council members can learn more about how to drive diversity through talent acquisition, by growing and diversifying the talent pipeline while reducing the impact of unconscious bias on your recruiting process.)