Differences Between Men and Women at Work – We Need Both Sexes!

Women continue to be a significant force in the workplace; the numbers of working women are gaining on working men. The Bureau of Labor statistics reported this June that women held 49.8% of the U.S jobs. Here are some trends:

1. Women have been gaining the vast majority of positions in the few sectors of the economy that are growing (health care, education, and government).

2. Through June, men had lost 74% of the 6.4 million jobs eliminated since the recession began in December 2007. Men have lost more than 3 million jobs in construction and manufacturing alone.

3. The gender hiring trend is really extreme in local government’s 14.6 million-person workforce. Cities, schools, water authorities and other local jurisdictions have cut 86,000 men during the recession – while adding 167,000 women.

4. As a result, at the end of October the jobless rate for women was 8.1% compared to 10.7% for men.

What do these trends mean for men?

According to 2008 Bureau of Labor Statistics data, nearly 60% of women work. Women were substantially underrepresented in agriculture, construction, manufacturing, mining, transportation, and utilities – typically shift work oriented industries. But, women accounted for 51% of all persons employed in management, professional, and related occupations. The share of women in specific occupations was varied significantly; women were 8% of construction managers, 34% of lawyers, 61% of accountants and 79% of social workers. Women accounted for more than half of all workers in finance, education and health services, leisure and hospitality, and other services.

The ten most prevalent occupations for employed women in 2008 were:
1. Secretaries and administrative assistants: 3.2m
2. Registered nurses: 2.6m*
3. Elementary and middle school teachers: 2.4m
4. Cashiers: 2.8m*
5. Retail salespersons: 2.8m*
6. Nursing, psychiatric, and home health aides: 1.7m*
7. Supervisors/managers of retail sales workers: 1.5m*
8. Receptionists and information clerks: 1.3m
9. Bookkeeping, accounting, and auditing clerks: 1.3m
* Denotes occupation is heavily shift work oriented.

Jobs that are heavily male oriented tend to pay more than those mostly worked by women,  in some cases when men and women perform the same job, men are paid more. This next graph shows the positions paying the most per the BLS:

Chief executives – greater than $145,600
Physicians and Surgeons – greater than $145,600
Airline pilots, copilots, and flight engineers – (1)
Dentists – 136,960
Air traffic controllers – 117,240
Podiatrists – 108,220
Engineering managers – 105,430
Lawyers – 102,470
Judges, magistrate judges, and magistrates – 101,690
Computer and information systems managers – 101,580
(1) Wage data for this occupation were removed because of reporting errors. Data are being corrected and revised wage estimates will be posted as soon as possible.

Chief executives, airline pilots, air traffic controllers, engineering managers and IT managers are still strongly male dominated positions. Doctors, dentists, lawyers, and judges are more diversified already and trends are moving towards even more women participating in these positions.

Men and Women – What’s the Difference?

The differences between men and women are well-documented. Here are the ones that are most frequently mentioned that impact approaches to work and relationships on the shift working job (note these are typical, but not exacting):

Working shift work is stressful. Men tend to have a “fight or flight” response to stress situations while women seem to approach these incidents with a calmer attitude. The reason men and women react to stress differently is due to hormones. When in stress we release the hormone oxytocin to help us cope. Estrogen, a hormone women produce, enhances the benefit of oxytocin, which results in calming and nurturing feelings. Men release testosterone, during stress, and this reduces the effects of oxytocin.

The complexity of most shift work jobs requires constant problem solving. Men tend to process better in the left hemisphere of the brain leading them to problem solve using logic and statistical analysis. Women, on the other hand, have four times as many brain cells (neurons) connecting the right and left side of their brain. So, Women tend to process equally well between the two hemispheres. Women typically solve problems more creatively because they are intuitive and more aware of feelings while communicating. For an excellent education about the difference between the left and right hemispheres of the brain, read, A Stroke of Insight, by Jill Bolte Taylor. The story is about how the 36 year-old neuroanatomist recovered from a massive stroke in the left side of her brain.

To be successful in many shift working positions, you need to be intensively aware of what’s going on around you. Men typically have stronger spatial abilities; they are good at being mentally aware of shapes, distances, and connections, whereas sometimes women struggle with special orientation. Women’s thicker parietal region of the brain hinders their ability to mentally rotate objects, an aspect of spatial capability. However, women score slightly better on tasks that involve visual memory, word and landmark recall.

Many shift jobs call for physical strength. Men usually have greater upper body strength and they build muscle easily. They have thicker skin and bruise less easily. Men are essentially built for physical confrontation and the use of force. Their joints are well suited for throwing objects. Women are more sensitive to sound and have better night vision than men.

Shift work jobs have greater incidents of accidents and injuries. Men have a lower threshold of awareness of injury than women because they don’t feel pain as intensively. Women are also more likely to vocalize their pain and to seek treatment for their pain than are men and they push men to do the same.

Let’s hope that one of the results of this recession is that employees learn to continuously reassess their unique capabilities and skills against future employment opportunities. And also, employers should continue to understand the importance of integrated, diverse workplaces. The strengths of both men and women, while different, are each valuable in the workplace.

©2009 Circadian Age, Inc. ˜Working Nights”

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