Wendy Waters
by Wendy Waters
Tue Sep 8th 2009 at 9:42am UTC

Thoughts on Gender and Work

Evident of the shift away from manufacturing work in North America, Statistics Canada reports that there are now approximately 200,000 more women than men in Canada’s paid labor force.

The shift toward a majority female workforce is probably also further evidence that the current economic downturn has accelerated the shift toward a creative economy.

After all, jobs that have traditionally employed women are creative, or have become so in recent years. In addition to the female majority in problem-solving fields like health care and teaching, what were previously more rote occupations now require tremendous creativity and smarts. For example, the traditional “typist” or “secretary” who took short hand and then typed memos word-for-word now tends to be an administrative assistant or executive assistant empowered to draft the memos, use creative flare to format and polish documents going to clients, and organize the business lives of a group of people in her team – among dozens of other responsibilities.

Richard Florida has often touched on the role gender has played in shaping what we choose to do. Men (like Richard’s father) have often drifted into manufacturing jobs because it was the “masculine” thing to do, rather than doing something more creative that they might have enjoyed better.

Strong unions that emerged from “men’s labor” successfully lobbied to retain these masculine manufacturing jobs for perhaps years beyond when they made sense. They have, unwittingly, put many of their members at a huge disadvantage in the 21st century economy where different skills are needed.

Meanwhile, the multi-tasking, diverse roles of women’s lives – raising kids, managing a household, and often doing some paid labor – somehow seem to suit the newer, knowledge-based, and service-based economy that is ever-changing and workplaces that requires both firm direction and kindness, dedication to routine and ability to adjust to changing circumstance.

Happy belated Labor Day.

I welcome your thoughts, including how all of this relates to discrepancies in pay between “male” and “female” jobs and workers.

9 Responses to “Thoughts on Gender and Work”

  1. Buzzcut Says:

    I think that this may be tied to some other related trends. Women are more likely to work for the government, be it as a teacher or public employee. The unemplyment rate for government workers is a fraction of that of the private sector, and it doesn’t seem likely that that trend will reverse anytime soon.

    Some stats came out this week showing that federal workers are getting twice the sallary of private sector workers.

    Finally, there was news that government workers cracked the 50% unionization mark, while private sector unions are almost extinct.

    Again, these things all tie together, and none of them are good trends in an open economy competing with the Chinese.

  2. Andrea Learned Says:

    I agree completely – and think that the definition of masculinity (more than that of femininity) is changing quite rapidly & somewhat suddenly. Some men are open to it and responding well to the freedom/flexibility of not having to worry about the traditional definition of masculinity (more ease in parenthood or more ease with taking care of themselves). Others are really nervous and so re-trenching in all that is the worst of that traditional viewpoint.

    If women and men can figure out how to talk about this in terms of characteristics and not with gender assignment, then men might be more inclined to embrace their creative, holistic thinking ways. The bad economy may be forcing an issue that has long needed to be addressed. Thanks for writing this!

  3. Creative Class: Thoughts On Gender And Work | The Daily MBA Says:

    [...] thought provoking post over at Creative Class about Gender And Work. I think the shift toward a more female work force in Canada (and maybe other places) is the nature [...]

  4. Wendy Says:

    Buzzcut, you’re talking US data I assume? I saw an eye-popping graph somewhere in the blogosphere this week that showed how, in the USA, private sector employment is now below it’s Dec 1999 level. Public sector employment is also trending down but still above the 1999 level, although barely. It’s shaping up that the ‘naughts’ will be a lost decade for the USA. Canada private sector job creation has been decent over this period, by contrast.

    In terms of gender, I (quickly) tried to find comparable US data on the sex of the workforce but could not. But your thoughts that public sector is dominated by women, especially when teachers are factored it, makes sense. It would be interesting to see the stats.

    Andrea — thanks for the comments. I wonder if there is an urban/suburban characteristic to this shift. Dads in families living in denser urban areas, close to work, have more time to spend with the children and household and thus do more. Suburban dads are commuting 2 hours per day, leaving them less time. What do you think?

  5. Buzzcut Says:

    Link regarding federal pay vs. private

  6. Wendy Waters Says:

    Thanks for the link, Buzz. It looks like they compare all private sector with all public sector jobs. Given that the private sector contains a lot of minimum wage retail, service, restaurant work, etc. it isn’t surprising that the average private sector worker makes less.

    What I’d love to see is a graph comparing wages of university educated people in the private and public sectors. Or, even for a subset like “engineers” or “accountants” or “computer programmers” or “teachers” to see if the discrepancy in pay holds up. In some cases it might. In others, I doubt it does (although if one considers the benefits that come with a government job, like good health care, more vacations, etc. then the public sector may indeed offer overall better compensation)

  7. Buzzcut Says:

    There are plenty of low-wage government workers. Clerks, janitors, and whatnot. The automatic assumption that the educational requirements of govenment employment is higher than the private sector is not a good one.


    How do I know this? Look at the link. Federal workers quit their jobs at a rate 1/3 that of the private sector.

    Have you ever heard the phrase “Golden Handcuffs”?

  8. Buzzcut Says:

    The government sector offers high pay, more benefits, and the unlikelihood of ever getting fired. That’s the bottom line that needs to be dealt with, because the trend is simply unsustainable (as is all US government spending, quite frankly. We’re fast heading towards default).

  9. Buzzcut Says:

    Does Richard Florida’s work “control” for government employment? I wonder if his striking conclusions would be so striking if he only looked at private sector workers.