Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Best jobs for women: The ones they don't have?

In the interest of "finding the best jobs women haven't yet discovered," ForbesWoman last week published a list of 20 best-paying careers that women aren't in. The ones they picked were based on a 2008 Department of Labor list of jobs in which women make up less than a quarter of the field, and data about earnings by occupation.

Number one on the list? Chief Executive.

As if women could just walk in to a company and apply for that job, but haven't because they just don't know about it yet.

It reminds me of the Monty Python sketch "How to Do It," in which Eric Idle (in drag, natch) blithely tells the audience how to cure all known diseases: "Well, first of all become a doctor and discover a marvelous cure for something, and then, when the medical profession really starts to take notice of you, you can jolly well tell them what to do and make sure they get everything right so there'll never be any diseases ever again."

Along those lines, both "fire fighters" and "first-line supervisor/manager of fire fighting and prevention workers" make the list, as does both "detective" and "first-line supervisor/manager of police and detectives." (Because if it's too hard to get a job as a detective, it may be a better option to supervise them instead?)

A few actual trades did make the cut: Locomotive operators, cost estimators, aircraft pilots, aircraft mechanics and service technicians. The best choice on the list? Engineering in general, which came in as a group at number two (and is much more feasable than Chief Executive). "From aerospace and chemical engineers to computer software and civil engineers, women are in the minority," the article points out. "By choosing engineering over nursing, for example, a woman could earn three to four times more each week."

Most of the 20 jobs on the list (or 15, if you remove the redundancies) require a big time commitment and plenty of hands-on experience before one can even approach the salaries described in the article, making them ideal for young women trying to decide on a college major but much less so for a mom looking to reenter the workforce or change careers mid-stream.

There's a reason many women don't flock to pilot jobs in the friendly skies, in spite of the high-flying pay scale, the article admits: "The potential danger and enormous amount of time spent away from home may be the biggest deterrents for women."

And, in winnowing the list down to these jobs, the only factor ForbesWoman looked at was financial, even though a January article in the same publication found that, when it comes to Millennial women, at any rate, "there's more value and focus based on quality of life."

In the end, I suspect that what makes a given job "best for women" is really what makes that same job best for anyone else working in that field: How it affects your work-life balance, whether you find it satisfying, whether it lets you earn enough to pay your bills.

But it's not that women aren't aware of these plum positions. We know the best jobs are out there. The problem is finding a way to land them.

Readers, what do you think makes a job "best for women"? How did you decide to get into the field you're in now?

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