Are Gender Stereotypes Holding You Back from Exploring a Nontraditional Career?

A dozen years ago, talking about “nontraditional” careers was really code for encouraging women toward industries that were historically dominated by men. Today, both men and women can pursue nontraditional careers, making inroads into professions where the majority of the workforce is composed of members of the opposite sex. Think oil-rig workers for women and kindergarten teachers for men.

People pursue nontraditional careers for a number of reasons, and pay is only one of them. Perhaps you’ve climbed the corporate ladder to the highest rung you can reach and found the view not as great as you thought it would be. Maybe you’re in a job that was someone else’s dream and you’re just now realizing your dream is different. You could crave something truly different, exciting, or meaningful. Or, you could want a job in a field where demand for professionals is high and supply short. You might find what you need and want in a nontraditional career.

If you’re considering pursuing a nontraditional career, your first stop should be the U.S. Department of Labor’s (DOL) website, where you’ll find detailed tables on the percentage of men and women in given careers. You can get an idea of the types of jobs where the distribution of the workforce is uneven. For example, less than 2 percent of all speech pathologists are male, while women make up two-tenths of a percent of all crane and tower operators, according to the DOL.

Next, log on to the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s occupational handbook, and check out the growth potential of nontraditional jobs that interest you. For example, the bureau forecasts demand for speech pathologists is going to grow significantly between now and 2022—19 percent, in fact, which is faster than the average growth rate for other industries. The BLS also predicts that demand for equipment-operating positions, like crane and tower operators, is also going to increase 19 percent over the same time period.

Keep in mind that more baby boomers will be retiring over the next decade, and their departure from the workforce will create many opportunities for people who want to explore nontraditional careers. In fact, certain fields—like nursing—are predicted to experience critical shortfalls in qualified workforce. Being a nontraditional worker in a high-demand field could help you stand out even more in your professional life.

For all the advantages of a nontraditional career, be aware you could face hurdles, too. It may be the 21st century, but gender stereotypes persist in regard to “men’s work” and “women’s work.” Man or woman, you may face feelings of isolation, discrimination, and even harassment if you pursue a career in a field typically deemed as being specific to the opposite gender.

Before you decide whether to pursue a nontraditional career, do The Seven Stories Exercise®:

  • Make a list of 25 things you’ve accomplished in life—at any age—of which you are most proud. These should be things you did well and enjoyed, whether it was earning a scouting badge in childhood or landing a million-dollar contract your first year on the job.
  • Choose the seven that mean the most to you, and rank them according to the level of personal satisfaction you derived from each.
  • For each of your top seven, list all the skills and talents required for your achievement, the type of people you worked with, etc. Look for common themes among those seven lists.

Now consider this: is your current career in line with those themes? If not, is there a nontraditional career option that might better fit your skills, talents, and motivations? A career that satisfies you intellectually and financially is the best kind, whether it’s traditional or nontraditional.

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