The Daily Gamecock

Column: Gender benders — traditional career paths aren't meant for everyone

It is past time we questioned conventional gender roles and embraced the empowerment of choosing nontraditional career paths in a rapidly-changing environment. Students who choose unconventional professional routes, such as men entering the healthcare field and women studying STEM disciplines, should be honored and supported in order to promote a more inclusive society, develop varied viewpoints, and help young adults reach their full potential. 

The idea that particular professions are best suited to particular genders has been historically fostered by society, according to Frontiers in Psychology, but, this out-of-date way of thinking restricts what communities can do with lacking diversity in the workforce. By challenging the status quo and paving the path for a more equal and forward-thinking society, men and women can thrive in their chosen professions without being told they're incapable. 

Vicki Hamby, the senior associate director of operations and career outcomes and special projects at the University of South Carolina's career center, said students trying to break the mold need to be confident in their path.

"I would say the absolute number one barrier is (the students) themselves," Hamby said. "If you're pursuing something that isn't the norm, it is going to take a little bit more effort ... there is some grit that is needed."

It's normal to have nerves when doing something quite different than what's expected of you. Even so, the sooner we can break down gender barriers in nontraditional professions, we can start to pave the way for a more inclusive and forward-thinking future.

Embracing non-traditional career paths can assist nations in leveraging new markets and growing sectors. If women were to participate in the labor force at the same rate as men, it could add up to $28 trillion to the global GDP by 2025, according to a report by the McKinsey Global Institute. This represents an increase of about 26% compared to the business-as-usual scenario. 

An alternative view is that a civilized society should be comprised of a clear-cut division of labor, where men are to do men’s work and women are to do women’s work. However, limited career choices should not be considered progress. Who is to say that a man sewing his child’s torn jeans is not the true meaning of “progress"?

In life there will always be choices, but people are more likely to succeed when they are allowed to follow their passions without being constrained by gender-based limitations. This encourages entrepreneurship, promotes innovation and draws varied expertise to fields that may have previously been dominated by one gender.

“(Employers are) extremely receptive, but I would say increasingly receptive over time,”  Hamby said. “A lot of companies have diversity hiring initiatives ... they have a goal to diversify their workforce.” 

Hamby said she has seen the most progress in women entering STEM fields.

“It's because of all the K-12 push and initiatives that have finally opened that door up and made it less intimidating for females,” Hamby said. “Biomedical engineering ... civil engineering and chemical engineering are getting more and more women." 

Students who are genuinely enthusiastic about their chosen disciplines have more motivation to succeed and contribute significantly to society. It is important to understand that, regardless of gender preconceptions, the path to true success lies in people pursuing the careers they are dedicated and devoted to.

USC encourages students to find their passions by regularly holding career fairs open to all majors and all backgrounds, which can allow and encourage them to pursue nontraditional careers and break free of cultural norms.

Additionally, students ready to dive into their passions can take advantage of opportunities such as one-on-one coaching with pre-professional advisors, LinkedIn navigation help, the mentorship hub and more. The Career Center's Gamecock Gradstats looks at real alumni outcomes of people pursuing jobs in each field, and Handshake allows students to network with peers at other institutions, finding opportunities for job shadowing and identify different workshops and alumni panels. 

Everyone deserves the chance to learn more about their passion and make a significant contribution to the world

Let's honor individuals who are willing to go against the grain and motivate a new generation to follow their true passion regardless of gender norms. In doing so, it is possible to create a world where everyone prospers, and genius knows no bounds by working together in any area they wish.


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