Breaking Gender Barriers

In the last 100 years, gender roles in the workplace have changed drastically. However we still have room to improve equality in several professions. At Terra State, we strive to help students break down barriers that may limit their choices in the professional world. Gender stereotypes are just one example of these barriers and they go both ways – women are less likely to pursue a career in engineering and manufacturing while men are less likely to enter the nursing or office administration profession. While the road may be challenging for students who are helping break down gender barriers, there is hope.

According to the National Sampling Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2008, the percentage of licensed male nurses increased from 6.2 percent licensed before 2000 to 9.6 percent licensed after 2000. (p. 7-3) The U.S. Congress Joint Economic Committee reported that 14 percent of engineers are women (2012) in STEM Education: Preparing for Jobs of the Future, a slight increase from 11 percent in 2004.

I’d like to introduce you to two students helping redefine profession gender roles and making the future workplace less stereotypical in regards to gender roles.

Steven Sieberg, a second year nursing student at Terra State, admits he didn’t expect to like nursing as much as he does. After 10 plus years in the manufacturing industry, Steven wanted a change so he enrolled at Terra State just to take a few general courses. Soon he found himself gravitating toward nursing because there are so many avenues you can pursue with a nursing degree.

When asked if he noticed a gender gap in the field, he chuckled and adamantly said, “Yes!” In his clinical experiences, Steven has only worked with two other male nurses and there is only one other male nursing student in his class. But when asked about receiving any pushback, his answer was greatly encouraging – “It depends on the people.” To Steven (and many younger people) it’s not about what gender you are, it’s about how you do your job. While he hasn’t personally experienced a gender bias, it could be due to his outgoing personality. He is friendly and eager to learn – two traits coveted in any profession. And although he hasn’t had outright gender bias from other professionals, he did mention that in the nursing profession some patients are less comfortable with male nurses performing certain duties that they wouldn’t think twice about a female nurse performing.

Agnes Martino is completing the Electricity for Power & Controls program at Terra State. Currently she has enough credits for her certificate and is just finishing the remaining classes to obtain her degree. She is originally from Long Island, NY and is an admitted tinkerer. She started her academic career studying chemistry but quickly learned she didn’t enjoy it, so she became a certified diesel mechanic. After working in the industry for several years, she was injured and the economic world was struggling so she had to make a difficult decision about her future. Ultimately, she decided to move to Ohio and began her studies at Terra State in the spring of 2014.

Agnes, like many females in male-dominated professions, notes there is plenty of old school thinking in her profession. But she is not one to back away from a challenge – tell her she can’t do something and she will prove you wrong! There is a huge gender gap in the industry and that for almost every job she has had, she was the first female in the company in that position. However, her experience with age is opposite that of Steven’s. The younger males in the field give her the hardest time while the older generation may be skeptical at first but once you prove you know your job, they are more accepting. She also notes that many younger females are just as guilty, making comments like “that’s a guy’s job.” Her response – “What makes it a guy’s job? Is there anything specifically defined that makes this a guy’s job?” She laughs when retelling a situation where another student makes just this argument and the defining factor was that the job was dirty. Agnes told the student there is a “magical thing called soap and a sink” – a perfect response to a less than persuasive argument.

Agnes would love to see more females enter traditionally male professions and wants everyone to know that gender doesn’t determine ability. Sure, there may be physical things that are challenging but you find a smarter way to get the job done.

Both Steven and Agnes praised the Terra State faculty and staff by saying everyone they have worked with has been extremely helpful, never once making them feel out of place or different because of their gender. Whether they realize it or not, these students are helping break gender barriers for future generations and Terra State is proud to help them achieve their goals.