Stereotypical gender role choices need to be eliminated.
Editor’s note: Elizabeth Stuesse works in the predominantly female profession of nursing with a background in maternal-newborn care, and her husband, Michael, a network design engineer, works in predominantly male information technology (IT).
Each of us works in a field where one gender is predominant. Recently, we both transitioned into academia and now teach in our respective fields at our alma maters. We knew we would face many similar challenges as educators: how to best engage students, how to get students to see the value of their course work, and how to best prepare the future generation of professionals. Neither of us realized, however, that we both faced another challenge—gender disparity. There are still far more women than men in nursing and far more men than women in IT. How could we help change these imbalances?
In 2011, according to a report published by the U.S. Census Bureau, 9.6 percent of registered nurses and 8.1 percent of licensed practical and vocational nurses—LPNs and PVNs—were men. These are significant increases from 1970, when those measurements, respectively, were 2.7 percent and 3.9 percent. A 2014 article by Leo King, published in Forbes, reported that only 24 percent of IT professionals in the United States are female and that the percentage is on “a downward trend.”
Why this gender disparity? Is it simply that only a small minority of men have an interest in nursing? Is it simply that relatively few women have an interest in IT? If we look at the history of both professions, we notice a common theme.
In the world of information technology, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Steve Wozniak are sometimes identified as fathers of the modern PC age. How would society see these men if they were not successful billionaires? They would be viewed as nerds, uncool, and square. Computers are still regarded as a domain for young male nerds, even though, according to a 2013 United Nations report, of the then-2.8 billion internet users, 1.3 billion were women and 1.5 billion were men.
With nursing we have the opposite. Although they represent different time periods and their contributions to the profession vary, Florence Nightingale, Virginia Henderson, and Patricia Benner could be regarded as mothers of modern nursing. How does society perceive these women? They might be described as caregivers, maternal, and nurturing—qualities often regarded as female. Preconceived notions acquired from the cultures we live in often control our perceptions and our choices.
Notions about gender roles in the workplace need to be addressed through education at a young age. Stereotypical gender role choices need to be eliminated, and young minds need to be opened through education to career possibilities once dismissed as not for men or not for women. What ideas do you have—or have seen implemented—that might combat gender role disparities?
Elizabeth Stuesse, MSN, RNC-OB, RNC-MNN, C-EFM, CLC, is clinical assistant professor of nursing at Catherine McAuley School of Nursing, Myrtle E. and Earl E. Walker College of Health Professions, Maryville University, St. Louis, Missouri, USA. Michael J. Stuesse, AT, CCNA, is a full-time instructor at Ranken Technical College in Wentzville, Missouri, USA.