There’s a lot of discussion about women in STEM and business and the barriers they face (justifiably so!), but what about men in the “female professions”? Do they face the same glass ceiling?
It turns out that there’s a classic paper on this that coined the term, “glass escalator.” It is somewhat classic, so I briefly looked for more recent work that cited it to see if it had been debunked, but didn’t find any studies that did not confirm the results*
Here’s the citation:
Williams, C.L. (1992). The Glass Escalator: Hidden Advantages for Men in the "Female" Professions. Social Problems, 39, 253-267. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3096961
In this article, Williams reports the results of a large qualitative study of men in Nursing, Librarianship, Elementary School Teaching, and Social Work. She selected a purposive sample of men (and some women who worked with the men, 99 participants total ) in four cities with contrasting proportions of men in these professions; i.e., high and low proportions. At the time this was written, the proportion of women in male-dominated professions was steadily increasing, yet, there was no increasing proportion of men in women-dominated proportions. In fact, the proportion of men in social work and librarianship was decreasing.
Prior to the writing of this article, there was this theory of tokenism: that the minority would face discrimination whether a woman in a male-dominated profession or vice-versa. Her results (and others found looking for disconfirming research) did not support this theory.
Men were given preference in hiring. Once hired, men were pushed towards administration roles, even when they stated a preference for staying in the classroom or library (children’s department, especially). Being male provided an advantage in promotion. She quotes her participants:
I am extremely marketable because I am a man.
I’ve heard this from managers and supervisory-type people with men in pediatrics:
"It’s nice to have a man because it’s such a female-dominated profession." (p.256)
Occasionally there were policies against men being, say, kindergarten teachers. Also men had trouble becoming deans of social work schools, for example, because the larger institution counted on using that position to balance other departments.
A participant who was a librarian talked about a particularly close and genial relationship with the male professors at library school. Women who participated in class were excluded when the conversation continued in the office. Men get mentored more in female-dominated professions whereas women receive less mentoring in male-dominated professions. The men network better and this helps them, too.
In contrast, outside of work, the men got a lot of crap for being in these professions. There’s a stigma. Men in teaching were accused of being pedophiles or that they couldn’t get a “real” job.
I’ve noticed that there are more men in leadership positions in libraries and there are certainly more male library school professors than female. I suspect that not much has changed since this research was done. Sigh.
* That might be too many negatives – I mean that the citing articles provided confirmatory evidence. Someone who knows this body of literature might know how this study is currently viewed by experts. If you are that person, please pipe up and educate us.