Where I mix career information and career decision making in a test tube and see what happens

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Are the Best Occupations for Women?

The topic of career advice for women never seems to get stale. I’ve been invited to discuss this topic on a radio broadcast, “Girlfriend We Gotta Talk.” The interview will be broadcast Sunday, August 22nd, after which you can download the recording at the show’s Facebook page.

I’m often asked, “What are the best occupations for women?” This seems like a straightforward question, but most people don’t realize how loaded it is. To accept this as a legitimate question, you have to accept the premise that all women are alike, that what’s good for one woman is good for all women. Nobody working in career development would suggest that one career is good for everybody. Neither is any good for all women.

I am reluctant to rephrase the initial (loaded) question this way: “What occupations are easiest for women to enter?” That’s because ease of entry means more than the simple availability of job openings, the balance between demand for and supply of workers. Ease of entry also is affected by the proportion of women already in the workforce of the occupation. In other words, occupations that are easiest for women to enter tend to be occupations where there are already a large number of women. Recommending these occupations is tantamount to advocating continuation of the status quo.

We have to be careful to realize that “best occupations for women” is not the same as “best occupations with women.”

However, there is one legitimate (although highly limited) way to rephrase the question. We can ask this: “What occupations are best suited to the preferences of women on average? The last two words of this question make clear that the answer will not apply to all women. The answer depends on what women, on average, prefer in their work.

I was part of the team at Educational Testing Service that researched the work-related values of men and women. We found that on average there are differences between the values priorities of men and women. Women on average tend to value “helping others,” and men on average tend to prefer work values associated with achievement, such as “high income,” “prestige,” and “independence.”

The implication of this difference is that women, on average, can get satisfaction from occupations that offer many opportunities for helping others. But it doesn’t follow that the more “helping others” an occupation offers, the more the average woman (if we pretend that there is such a person) will be satisfied by it. That’s because any work involves a mix of satisfactions (and dissatisfactions). An occupation like Home Health Aides offers a great amount of “helping others,” but the low pay may make it unattractive to many women. On the other hand, an occupation like Veterinarians offers both “helping others” and high pay. I should mention that more than half of Veterinarians are now women.

The ETS study probably overlooked some other preferences that characterize women on average. For example, one study by the Pew Research Center found that working mothers with minor children tend to prefer part-time work more than do fathers. Women who share this preference may be attracted to occupations that offer more opportunities for part-time work.

Of course, you have to set averages aside when you give advice to one person. The same ETS study that found the average value priorities of women also found that there is a significant minority of women whose value profile looks very much like the average value profile for men. (The reverse is also true.) Women with an atypical values profile may not be satisfied by Home Health Aides, Veterinarians, or any other occupation largely focused on “helping others.”

So even the question “What occupations are best suited to the preferences of women on average? has very limited usefulness.

As a society, in fact, we have to be careful not to focus too much on averages. Although the majority rules in our republic, we also have a Bill of Rights that safeguards minority rights to speech, religion, and so forth. The same should apply to job opportunity. If we focus too much on what women want on average in their careers, we too easily allow the perpetuation of traditional practices that thwart the career preferences of individual women.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Career Success for Introverts

This week I came upon a pair of Web-based articles on the impact of introversion and extroversion on a person’s career prospects. I have researched and written on this subject (in 200 Best Jobs for Introverts), and so I was disappointed to find that the writer of these articles presents a distorted picture of what an introverted personality is like. She also fails to find any advantages in introversion.

Here are a few choice quotations that show how this writer characterizes introverts:

“Your inability to exude confidence in social situations is a definite weakness. You therefore have to either learn to overcome this anxiety or find a career where you don’t really have to deal with people.”

“If you become flustered and start panicking when you’re surrounded by large numbers of people you will most probably want to avoid developing a career which involves a great deal of contact with the public.”

“If communicating is a real problem it may be worth drawing attention to the fact that you’re shy, rather than pretending to be someone you’re not and being perceived as ‘weird’.”

Contrasting extroverts to introverts, she says this:

“When you’re an extrovert, you tend to have much more confidence than someone who is an introvert, which can really help you pursue the career you want. Instead of being plagued by self-doubt you have a consistent belief in yourself so that you set goals and work towards achieving them, rather than letting yourself get sidetracked by the potential for failure. You may listen to other people’s views and opinions, but you don’t take any criticism to heart, as you are confident to ignore anything you don’t want to hear.”

The essential problem here is that she confuses introversion with social phobia. Introverts are not shy. They do not lack confidence, get flustered, suffer from self-doubt, or panic in social situations. These are all symptoms of social phobia.

Introverts are people who derive energy from solitude and feel a loss of energy in social situations. That’s not the same as being anxious or awkward in social situations. In fact, many introverts are very skilled at social interactions. They simply prefer to work alone.

Based on a fallacious definition of introversion, this writer makes it appear that introverts are ill-equipped for finding and succeeding at jobs. It’s true that the 21st century workplace, more than ever before, emphasizes working in teams, which is not the arrangement introverts prefer. It’s also true that much of the growth of the workforce will be in service occupations, such as health care, that often involve a lot of working with people. Finally, modern technology throws a lot of distractions at workers (e-mail, IM, cell phones) that introverts would prefer to avoid.

Nevertheless, introverts have many strengths that they bring to the job hunt and the workplace. Introverts who know how to use their strengths will have many opportunities.

Introverts make up about 25 percent of the population. (Estimates vary, but I reject the much higher figure from MBTI, which counts everyone on the "I" side of the midpoint as an introvert. In reality, the amount of measurement error in the assessment means that many people near the midpoint could just as easily be on the other side.) Although introverts are definitely a minority, they make up a majority of the gifted population. Many highly successful people are thought to be introverts--even some presidents of the United States.

When introverts are able to focus on the task at hand without interruptions, they often are able to provide very thoughtful solutions to problems. Their patience and persistence enable them to solve problems that take a long time to complete and that require mastery of both the big picture and the details. By avoiding a herd mentality, introverts can produce highly original ideas. The volume of their work output also may be very high, because they don’t have to adjust their work pace to fit other people’s schedules or preferences. Introverts tend to be good writers, because they prefer to give a thoughtful response rather than work out their ideas in conversation. Research shows that multitasking tends to lower productivity, so the introverted workers’ tendency to turn off their cell phones and ignore e-mail arrivals probably makes them more efficient.

When it comes time to find a job, introverts may seem at a disadvantage because networking involves so much social contact. However, introverts can network successfully by concentrating on the strengths that they bring to the task: their understanding of themselves, their ability to articulate their skills, and their ability to cultivate relationships over time.

Introverts may be highly effective at crafting the perfect resume and cover letter, but they run the risk of being misunderstood in job interviews, especially if the person interviewing them is an extrovert. The interviewer may perceive them as “guarded,” “reserved,” “standoffish,” “private,” or “too serious.”

Again, introverts can compensate by using their strengths, especially their ability to prepare for the interview. Applying their research skills, they can find out useful information about the employer--and, possibly, the interviewer. They can use a portfolio to provide examples of their best work. Using a thorough knowledge of the business, pointed questions, and specific examples of their work, they can dispel the notion that they are “aloof.”

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

New Data on Women's Earnings

The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently released a report on the 2009 earnings of women (PDF). This annual report always makes for fascinating reading, and this year's edition is no exception. Surprise, surprise! On average, women are still earning less than men. However, I was able to find some interesting tidbits about the variations within that overall average.

Start with this chart, based on figures from the report, that indicates the earnings of women at various levels of education, measured (on the vertical scale) as a percentage of the earnings of men at the same level of education.

Given these categories for level of education, the more education a woman gets, the greater the disparity in her earnings. It looks as if it's pointless for women to get more education, doesn't it?

Yet, paradoxically, it turns out that (again, on average) women actually gain a greater advantage than men for each additional level of education they attain. The following chart, also based on figures from the report, shows the advantage of various levels of educational attainment for men and women over workers of the same sex who did not complete high school.

The difference for women is not great, but it's consistent, and it's greater (1.3%, 2.1%, and 11.5%) with each additional step up the ladder.

Now, here's another chart based on data from the report. This one looks at the wage differences for different age brackets. Like the first chart, it shows women's earnings as a percentage of men's earnings (in the same age bracket):

You'll note that younger and older women earn a better-than-average percentage of the male wage, whereas middle-aged women earn less. I'm only guessing, but I think that younger women earn more because they have higher expectations of fair treatment and because the earnings-limiting lifestyle choices that many women make have not yet taken a toll on their wages. I also speculate that older women have acquired enough work experience to make up for some of the ground that they lost earlier, and this explains their higher earnings.

Now, here's one more chart derived from the report, yet again showing women's earnings as a percent of men's. In this case, the average is broken down into various levels of hours worked per week:

This chart reveals that women who work part-time earn higher wages than men working the same number of part-time hours (except for those women who work fewer than 5 hours). This difference partly reflects the kinds of jobs that women and men are working in. For example, some women who work part-time as nurses on night duty earn very impressive per-hour wages. It may also reflect the attitudes of employers toward workers. That is, working part-time may seem a more conventional behavior for women workers, whereas male workers who choose this arrangement may be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as less committed to their careers.

I doubt these disparities will ever vanish, but we do seem to be making progress. A female friend of mine who got her bachelor's in chemical engineering from The Johns Hopkins University about 15 years ago told me that there are now more women in the JHU School of Engineering with the same given name as her as the total number of women enrolled when she was an undergraduate.

Finally, here are some occupations in which the percentage of female workers has increased by more than 10 percent between 2007 and 2009. I limited my analysis to occupations with a total workforce of more than 100,000 in order to exclude small-sample occupations, for which the male-female percentages are likely to be unreliable:

Occupation Name Increase
Medical Transcriptionists 23.7%
Library Technicians 23.2%
Instructional Coordinators 21.3%
Demonstrators and Product Promoters 13.3%
Administrative Services Managers 12.1%
Telemarketers 11.6%
Medical Scientists, Except Epidemiologists 10.6%
Paper Goods Machine Setters, Operators, and Tenders 10.2%

This blog entry is dedicated to the memory of Sarah Doshna.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

New Release of Career Information

This week’s blog entry is aimed mostly at career-information geeks who, like me, are thrilled by each new release of the O*NET database. Release 15 came out while I was away from home, at the National Career Development Association conference, so I didn’t get a chance to play around with it until today.

No new occupations were added this year. However, I am very pleased to note that data regarding skills, work styles, and other domains now may be found for 45 occupations that previously had only definitions and lists of work tasks. A list of these occupations appears below. Of these, all except the last two were added to the O*NET database only last year.

I am not surprised that many of these expanded-data occupations are in health care; this is America’s largest and fastest-growing industry. You may have already had a personal encounter with a worker in one of these occupations, such as Nuclear Medicine Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, or Endoscopy Technicians.

But I am especially happy that many of the expanded-data occupations are STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) occupations. Our economy needs an infusion of workers into STEM careers, so it’s important for these occupations to have a higher profile than in the past, giving career decision makers more opportunities to consider them.

Only a few titles on the list below (notably Energy Auditors and Energy Engineers) are clearly identifiable as green occupations. Nevertheless, I can’t say I’m disappointed that this release does not expand the data for many more green occupations. The field is so recently emerged that I simply would not be realistic if I expected the full range of data for these occupations already.

11-9111.01 Clinical Nurse Specialists
11-9199.01 Regulatory Affairs Managers
11-9199.04 Supply Chain Managers
13-1041.07 Regulatory Affairs Specialists
13-1199.01 Energy Auditors
13-2099.04 Fraud Examiners, Investigators and Analysts
15-1051.01 Informatics Nurse Specialists
15-1099.06 Geospatial Information Scientists and Technologists
15-2041.01 Biostatisticians
15-2041.02 Clinical Data Managers
17-1022.01 Geodetic Surveyors
17-2199.02 Validation Engineers
17-2199.03 Energy Engineers
17-2199.04 Manufacturing Engineers
17-2199.07 Photonics Engineers
17-2199.08 Robotics Engineers
17-3029.04 Electronics Engineering Technologists
17-3029.06 Manufacturing Engineering Technologists
17-3029.09 Manufacturing Production Technicians
19-1029.02 Molecular and Cellular Biologists
19-1029.03 Geneticists
19-2099.01 Remote Sensing Scientists and Technologists
19-3039.01 Neuropsychologists and Clinical Neuropsychologists
19-4099.02 Precision Agriculture Technicians
29-1069.03 Hospitalists
29-1069.05 Nuclear Medicine Physicians
29-1069.09 Preventive Medicine Physicians
29-1111.01 Acute Care Nurses
29-1111.02 Advanced Practice Psychiatric Nurses
29-1111.03 Critical Care Nurses
29-1122.01 Low Vision Therapists, Orientation and Mobility Specialists, and Vision Rehabilitation Therapists
29-1199.02 Nurse Anesthetists
29-1199.03 Nurse Practitioners
29-1199.04 Naturopathic Physicians
29-1199.05 Orthoptists
29-2011.01 Cytogenetic Technologists
29-2011.02 Cytotechnologists
29-2011.03 Histotechnologists and Histologic Technicians
29-2099.01 Electroneurodiagnostic Technologists
29-2099.03 Ophthalmic Medical Technologists and Technicians
29-2099.04 Nurse Midwives
29-9099.02 Genetic Counselors
31-9093.01 Endoscopy Technicians
33-9099.01 Transportation Security Officers
15-1099.03 Network Designers