What makes a young boy believe he is less caring and supportive than a girl? And what happens when those children face the ‘nurturing’ careers like nursing, education, and social services (NESS)? A recent study, ‘Gender stereotypes about nurturing ability emerge early and influence children’s interests’ showed that by the age of 6, boys were already less likely than girls to describe their own gender as ‘kind’, and less likely to join an activity labelled for ‘very, very helpful’ kids.
Person-to-person interaction continues to dominate much of our daily lives, and nurturing and mentoring professions are thought to hold some of the most compassionate hearts and strongest minds of our time. But where is the male equivalent of Mother Theresa or Sister Donna Markham OP*?
The NESS fields have always had a man problem. Women tend to dominate in the social services, early education, and nursing professions, and for men, the numbers aren’t growing. No matter where you turn, the stats are grim. Today, men hold only 9.6 percent of all nursing jobs. This is unsurprising when we take into account how many men are actually studying nursing in college; less than 10 percent of BSNs go to men, even though male graduates hold 46 percent of all bachelor’s degrees.
When Matthew Chan signed up to take a child development class his freshman year at Brown High School in Hartford, he was the only boy in the class.
Chan had always been fascinated by family life, straying from his older brother’s inclination toward computers. He read fiction books about kids in the foster care system and watched Full House after school. It wasn’t until he was older that he realized the discrepancy in the numbers of girls and boys in his home economics classes and community service camps.
“It was kind of troubling seeing there weren’t as many males,” Chan said.
Chan’s observation is reflective of nationwide figures that show that men are statistically underrepresented in NESS fields. While men made up about half of the U.S. college-educated workforce in 2013, only 19 percent of the social services, nursing, and early education workforce was male, according to the National Social Service Foundation.
So, how do we change this, and what should boys learn now that sets them up to thrive in a transformed labor market of the future? The answer is not simply more and better NESS subject teaching. They must also learn that boys have an equal place in that future. This isn’t a given. A major and underestimated obstacle for boys in NESS is the stereotype that has been created and perpetuated that girls are better at these subjects and careers.
In an effort to bring more balance to gender representation, schools and a number of education-focused organizations across the nation have used research to develop strategies to engage young boys in NESS, particularly in the preteen years, when boys tend to move away from NESS.
Men Mentor Tomorrow is Support Republic’s year-long campaign to champion the role of men in nursing, education, and social services. The campaign highlights the vast array of opportunities available for men interested in working in NESS areas in the United States, with a number of men highly valued by the communities they serve such as Jeremiah Carson, who has worked for 24 years as a case manager at Hope for All Charities, lending their support. The campaign calls on hospitals and service organizations to help encourage more boys in to NESS through helping to provide role models and placements for high school students.
For Matt Chan, no push was necessary to make him fall in love with helping people.
“Home economics and literature were always my stronger subjects,” said Chan, who was the valedictorian for Hartford ISD’s Brown High School this year.
He asked his parents to allow him to volunteer at local non-profits and intentionally built up academic mentoring programs in high school – even if it meant not having the spending money a paying job would give him, or spending time after school in the elementary school classrooms rather than on the football field.
Chan plans to double major in social work and creative writing and intends to go into social work and eventually build a non-profit program that provides writing workshops for children with histories of trauma or unstable home lives.
However, Matt Chan is still the exception, not the norm. Although achieving gender equality can’t be done overnight, what we can do is dedicate ourselves to changing the norms and stereotypes that inhibit men from tapping into their true potential.
*This is a work of satire. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events or statistics is purely coincidental. The clear exception is the use of the names of Mother Theresa and Sr. Donna Markham.
The above “article” is a direct composite of four different STEM articles (linked below) I pulled off the first page of search engine results for “girls STEM careers”. I took paragraphs directly from those articles, switched the feminine for the masculine, and made minor relevant changes. I left the rhetoric as is.
–As a note, when I searched “boys social services careers,” the results were along the lines of job postings for the Boys and Girls Club.–
Last week, we had a case manager training at Catholic Charities. I looked around the large room stuffed with case managers from all departments, and realized it was a room overflowing with women. Even of the four men in the room, only one, maybe two, were case managers.
Later that same day, I coincidentally read this article: Why Brilliant Girls Tend to Favor Non-STEM Careers.
I do not think it is a bad thing there are not more men in the “NESS” careers; however, I do think it is remarkable we are “unbrainwashing” girls and pushing them to enter male-dominated fields, as if there is no value in traditionally feminine fields.
I have met some incredible people working in the non-profit sector over the past months. These are people who are not necessarily measured by their titles–in fact, some lament that promotions take them away from the people they serve. These are also not people who “settled” for non-profit work, but rather people who have developed incredibly empathetic minds, sheer persistence, and the ability to walk the fine line between hardened hearts and secondary post-traumatic stress disorder.
I’m happy women who favor math and technology can go into STEM fields, but I hope the opening up of opportunities does not result in the devaluation of person-to-person professions, or the family/domestic sphere.
STEM inspiration articles:
STEM Fields And The Gender Gap: Where Are The Women?
More girls pursuing STEM careers
Getting more girls thinking about STEM careers
No hidden figures: success stories can help girls’ STEM careers