by Randall S. Hansen, Ph.D.
There’s sometimes a point in career planning when people are discouraged from following their dreams because their career choice does not fit in with traditional gender roles. Men are discouraged from careers in nursing, social work, and teaching while women are discouraged from careers in technology, science, and security. Men who are interested in “feminine” jobs are teased about their sexuality and women who are interested in “male” jobs are questioned as to whether they have the brains or stamina to perform.
Given all these issues, its imperative in career planning that people — regardless of their gender — are allowed to follow their dreams and utilize their interests and skills. Career planning should not be about gender stereotyping.
And the good news is that research shows that men and women are increasingly moving into — and succeeding in — non-traditional careers. Still, there are quite a few careers for both men and women that can be listed as non-traditional. Non-traditional careers are ones those in which fewer than 25 percent of the workforce is of one gender. (See our list of non-traditional careers for men and women.)
However, job-seekers considering a non-traditional career path should weigh the pros and cons before making a final decision about whether to pursue this path.
Pros of Non-Traditional Careers
The biggest pro of working in a non-traditional career is the intrinsic benefit of following your dreams and the satisfaction that comes from the empowerment of a job done well.
One of the other big pros — but also potentially one of the biggest cons — is that people in non-traditional jobs will receive more attention. If you are doing well, that attention is generally good because all workers want to be recognized for their hard work (although the attention could raise jealousy issues among co-workers), but if you are struggling a bit, that attention will simply amplify the problems and add to the pressure to perform.
Another pro of non-traditional careers is their impact on society. No one gender has a lock on any occupation, and workers who are some of the first of their gender to succeed in a career open the door to others.
For women, another pro is that the pay is typically much higher in careers where men dominate; thus, you’ll have the potential to make more money in a non-traditional career.
For men, another pro is that you are often given positions of responsibility sooner, because, fairly or not, men are often seen as having natural leadership and other key skills.
Cons of Non-Traditional Careers
Probably the biggest con is the lack of enough mentors in non-traditional careers. Mentors, people in higher positions within your career field, are critical to your success as they can guide you, protect you, and help you along in your career. (Read more about mentors.)
Another con is the potential negative feelings from co-workers, especially for female workers in a traditionally male career. You can be seen as taking the “spot” reserved for a friend, or worse, a token worker hired to avoid lawsuits or appease special-interest groups. And in the worst case scenario, these negative feelings can lead to sexual harassment.
Amazingly, another con is the potential to have little or no support from family and friends who may question your motives for entering a more challenging career — or who simply don’t understand the pressures and problems you face in a non-traditional career.
Finally, in certain traditionally male careers, the physical part of the job can be very demanding, so a final con for women is that some non-traditional careers impose both mental and physical challenges that may be overwhelming.
Final Thoughts on Non-Traditional Careers
If you are considering a non-traditional career, perhaps the best way to determine whether you really want to purse the career is to gather as much information as possible — and gain experience wherever possible. Consider informational interviews and job shadowing with people of your own sex who are successful in their careers; it’s through these activities that you can learn more about their joys and frustrations and see first-hand what a career might be like for you. And, of course, you should also gain experience in your career through internships, volunteering, or part-time employment.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.