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Men's and Women's occupations

When we think of women's occupation, these come to our mind: nurse, teacher, cleaning lady, shop assistant. Whereas, the occupation associated with typically male ones are e.g.: builder, driver, police officer or firefighter.

Where does this classification come from? Why in spite of the equality of rights and law, which does not accept any kinds of discrimination and inequalities between genderes in the sphere of the work, we still think stereotypically?

Of course everything in our minds is imbued with tradition, upbringing and the history. Women’s occupational activity and their place in the particular sectors of the economy were determined by historical events such as: Industrial Revolution, wars, economic crises. In consequence, the occupation are classified, into those with men’s and women’s supremacy (Jamrożek, Żołądź-Strzelczyk 2001).

Danièle Kergoat notices that ‘the occupation classification according to the gender takes place in all societies (…). This classification is determined by the principle of the hierarchy: men’s work is always superior to women’s work’ (Zygmunt 2009). Relations of employing men and women are defined on the basis of the hierarchy relation, placing women's occupations lower in terms of the access to socially valued goods.

The factors that prevent women from performing jobs dominated by men are e.g.:

  • differences in biology and talents which condition the usefulness of women and men to perform specific occupational activities;
  • family roles of women and men – due to the larger number of domestic duties it is assumed that woman is less mobile than man. Moreover, women’s work is characterised by  discontinuity, which results from e.g. care for children;
  • attitudes of employers and occupational organisations – quiet policy of excluding women from prestigious, well paid, or giving the access to power, occupations.

The existence of these factors contributes to segregation on the labour market in terms of unequal access to socially valued goods. The barriers and restrictions largely result from the cultural and social conditions. They are rooted in the mentality of both women and men. They are often so deep in reality that almost invisible.

The classification of the occupation considering the gender is quite permanent and still visible, in spite of social transformations, education, increase in the social awareness. According to Irena Reszke, ‘the classification into men’s and women’s occupations is a result of a complex chain of biological, psychological, cultural, technical, economic and political factors. Both limitation of the selection of women’s occupation and occupational preferences of women are a result of such chains of various factors’ (Reszke 1991).

Out of the above factors the one extremely crucial is stereotyping women and men places in the society. Girls and boys are brought up differently which leads to stronger gender stereotypes since the youngest age. Developing and awarding personality traits associated with male and female gender, causes these traits to be even stronger. What is more, it has impact on perceiving one’s place on the labour market and future aspiration. Since the earliest age, women and men are expected to act differently in terms of the concentration on achieving career success or interpersonal activity. Boys are highly valued and praised for being independent, assertive, and criticised for being submissive and protective. Whereas, girls are taught the focus on emotions and interpersonal relations. This process causes the majority of women to make the choice of ‘feminine’ traits and patterns of behaviour consistent with the social expectations, emphasizing their communication skills, openness and expressiveness. While, men present ‘male’ features associated with the power, competence and the low emotionality. This exerts essential influence on the type of the occupational job taken up by women and men in the future and its judgement by the society.

Due to the ongoing process of socialization, women often regard themselves, as well as are regarded as dependent on others, showing no initiative and readiness to implement the innovation, unable to compete in the occupational field. More often than not, women fear for the criticism of the environment, when making choices (Melosik 1996).

All these factors are reflected on the current occupational market and cause much more women to perform jobs associated with education, health care, cleaning, rather than jobs such as: a builder, technician, driver or soldier. The example can be the percentage of men and women working on certain positions, worked out on the basis of the data of the Polish Agency for Enterprise Development (Bilans Kapitału Ludzkiego w Polsce 2010) (graph 1).

Graph 1. Percentage of men and women working (full-time and part-time) in the certain occupation.


Source: own study: rynekpracy.pl - PARP, Bilans Kapitału Ludzkiego w Polsce 2010.

The list of the occupations on the graph above:

  • construction workers,
  • drivers and machine operators,
  • electricians and electronics engineers,
  • mathematics, technology and physics specialists,
  • public authorities representatives, higher officials,
  • refuse loaders,
  • financial and statistical specialists,
  • economical and management specialists,
  • salespersons,
  • customer service workers,
  • teachers,
  • health specialists,
  • housekeepers, cleaners.

Classification into occupations typically male and typically female still is a fact and results mainly from gender stereotyping, and what follows, their inequality on the labour market, in spite of the number of legal acts guaranteeing equal rights of women and men on the occupational market.

Nevertheless, the recent years show that in spite of existing divisions, more and more of women decide to work in the occupations regarded as male ones. Women even more and more often reach for military or police uniforms, engineer helmets and bus steering wheel. This is happens, among others, due to the higher prestige of the typically male occupations.

Whereas, the occupations most women work in are regarded as less prestigious, and therefore, not very attractive to men. The additional factor making fewer men are ready to take up feminised occupations, is also a lower pay in these industries. What's interesting, although women gradually start working in the typically male occupations, their prestige for this reason is not decreasing! (studies of the Human Resources Development Centre).

Persons deciding to work in the occupation unique for their gender, unfortunately are exposed to prejudice and regarded not by the education, skills, competence which they use to perform their job, but by the features automatically attributed to their gender.

A male nursery school teacher or a beautician are still a rarity. And that is a shame, because thanks to breaking stereotypes and proving that it is possible, a new awareness is slowly raised in the society. Gender diversity of staff is better for socialisation and shows to the youngest that there are no typical features attributed to women and men. The more women and men work in the occupation untypical of their gender, the sooner the society will get accustomed to such situation and accept it. The chances for that are increasing due to a so-called sustainable staffing. Perhaps thanks to that, soon we will manage to change the prevailing customs?

Marta Prokopek-Pyśk


Jamrożek W., Żołądź-Strzelczyk D. (red.), Rola i miejsce kobiet w edukacji i kulturze polskiej, Wyd. Instytut Historii UAM, Poznań 2001.

Melosik Z., Tożsamość, ciało i władza, Wyd. Edytor s.c., Poznań−Toruń 1996.

http://praca.gazetaprawna.pl/artykuly/523442,przybywa_kobiet_w_zawodach_uwazanych_za_meskie.html, [20.10.2011].

Reszke I. , Nierówności płci w teoriach. Teoretyczne wyjaśnienia nierówności płci w sferze pracy zawodowej, Warszawa 1991.

www.rynekpracy.pl, [20.10.2011].

A. Zygmunt, Postulat równości płci, http://www.sbc.org.pl/Content/4438/doktorat2665.pdf, [20.10.2011].