The stereotypes we face

April 20, 2016

The “secretary”

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Commerce, less than 25% of the positions in STEM fields are held by women. As much as we loathe to admit it, women sometimes find it more difficult to enter an engineering or technology field than a man. But the sexism doesn’t end once they’d made their way into their careers.


The subtle sexism in the workplace goes as far as expecting women to complete the “office housework” such as answering the phone, taking notes and training younger employees. These traditional tasks that females are expected to do are not a part of the employee’s immediate job description and are the tasks in which volunteers are asked for.


This is a sad reality for women in the workforce; statistics show that they will help more, but reap fewer benefits. Traditional gender stereotypes dictate that women are supposed to be more helpful and nurturing than men, who are expected to be more ambitious and driven.


Therefore, when a woman offers to bake cupcakes for the office party or help train new employees, it is considered to be ordinary and part of her inherent nature. Unfortunately, this hurts a woman’s chance at success in her career.


Psychologists Madeline Heilman and Julie Chen conducted a study together with the New York University in which they predicted that “performance of altruistic citizenship behavior in a work setting would enhance the favorability of men’s (but not women’s) evaluations and recommendations…”

performance of altruistic citizenship behavior in a work setting would enhance the favorability of men’s (but not women’s) evaluations and recommendations…

— Madeline Heilman and Julie Chen

Unfortunately for women, their hypothesis was proven correct.


“Work-related altruism is thought to be less optional for women than for men,” according to the study, “these results suggest that gender-stereotypic prescriptions regarding how men and women should behave result in different evaluative reactions to the same altruistic behavior, depending on the performer’s sex.”


These expectations lead to stereotypes. When we tell women that they will only be as likeable as a man if they work harder, we give the impression that they are not as necessary in the work force.


This is a scientifically-proven, yet ridiculous assumption.


Two students at MIT performed an experiment meant to analyze factors that contribute to running a successful team or business group. It was shown that teams with more women outscored those with fewer. Women bring to the table new knowledge and skills, as well as a different perspective, both of which boost what is called the group’s ‘collective intelligence.’


But why is this? Why are women considered the ‘secretaries’ of the workforce even when it’s been proven that they bring higher rates of success?

Gender stereotypes are reinforced at a very young age, typically around the age of three. It begins when we assign the color pink to girls and blue to boys. We continue with separating the toy aisles according to ‘boy’ toys and ‘girl’ toys. When they enter the public education system, teachers are more strict with girls since boys are “expected to misbehave.”
Once again, it comes down to expectations. When we expect a characteristic out of one gender but not the other, we perpetuate gender stereotypes. The easiest way to combat this is to make judgements on people after meeting them and base it off of their personality. Don’t assign toys or colors to children barely old enough to babble.

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The ‘homosexual”

Society has taken action against the unfair treatment of women in the workplace, but every coin has a flip side. Men in female-dominated field face similar hardships. Stereotypes and emotional attack can become a part of their regular, day-to-day life within their chosen careers. However, this is the side that few speak about.


One major field in which women dominate is the nonprofit sector. According to an article by the Blue Avocado, A Magazine of American Nonprofits, women make up anywhere from 70% to 75% of nonprofit employees. The last 25-30% are male, leading to many men to feelings of anxiety or the sense of isolation. However, after a length of time working around women, men often report feeling more comfortable.


“Working in a female-majority sector means a workplace that is less competitive and more collaborative,” said Shaun Daniel of Oregon Rural Action to an interview with the Blue Avocado, “Women tend to place importance on employee well-being as well as getting the work done.”


Other anonymous men are reported to have said that it is “easier to work with women” and that they tend to be “nurturing [and] supportive.”


However, this comfort begins and ends in the office during the workday. Outside of their jobs, many men in female-majority fields report anxiety over the culturally perceived masculinity of their careers or distinctly feminine stereotypes.


However, considering their perceived comfort and support in the office, why do men feel nervous or insecure about their careers?


We find the answer in a technique that psychologists have come to call ‘re-labeling.’


According to a research paper by Dr. Ruth Simpson of Brunel University, re-labeling can be defined as “some adjustments to job title and/or omission of key details.”


Simpson interviewed males in female-dominated professions and many of them reported that they have re-labeled their jobs in the past.


“Several [male] librarians referred to their titles as ‘information scientist’ or ‘researcher’, thereby highlighting the technical skills required.”


One anonymous librarian says, “I play on the context and say I work at [university]… I say I look after business information, that sounds more impressive.”


Because of the hasty stereotypes that society has created for men in certain (often female-dominated) fields, men often come to feel insecure about their jobs and sometimes hide or lie about the fact.


  • The book “Real Men or Real Teachers” by Paul Sargent interviews male elementary school teachers who are treated with suspicion from their students’ parents.


These such stereotypes prevent some men from entering into their desired field. According to a minority nurse staff member, fear of being seen as homosexual prevents some heterosexual men from entering a nursing career.

Much talk goes on within the feminist community about destroying female stereotypes and opening new doors for women, but the men who face similar problems are often left unconsidered. For us to revel in an equal society, attention must be paid to both sides of the coin.

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