Women are underrepresented in a number of fields, such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math), law, politics, and medicine. Despite performing better than the boys when tested on STEM subject matter, women are consistently discouraged from pursuing careers in these fields. We know this.
But what’s another area of work where women are often excluded that goes relatively undiscussed? Blue-collar jobs.
A sector dominated by men, blue-collar jobs require manual labor, great stamina, and some muscle. Women on average are underrepresented by 80 percent in blue-collar work, with Latina women and black women having the most access to these roles compared to white women.
The plain truth is that these opportunities tend to pay substantially better than women’s traditional roles, and they provide benefits. It’s high time we find more ways to give women access to blue-collar roles so, at the very least, they can reap the financial and health care benefits.
Why women don’t enter blue-collar fields
Women’s lack of representation in blue-collar jobs starts and ends with sexism.
Historically, there has been a lot of effort put into raising awareness on the topic of “pink-collar jobs,” or occupations that are traditionally held by women, and are, therefore, devalued and often underpaid due to women’s propensity in the field.
These roles primarily subsist of work that involves taking care of others and carrying the weight of emotional labor. Teachers, retail workers, secretaries, and nannies—these are all pink-collar roles.
Blue-collar jobs, on the other hand, are traditionally filled by men and consist of roles that perform manual labor, such as construction workers, plumbers, and farmers.
We call this “occupational sorting,” and it’s a cultural divide that contributes heavily to the gender pay gap. You can read more about the history of occupational sorting, and how it affects pay, here. (We will say that, when women do enter blue-collar roles, they can make up to three times as much income than they would in a pink-collar job. The dream.)
Beyond pay, there is an environmental issue women face when they don their polyethylene hard hats. Life as a woman on a team full of guys is not without its obstacles.
Blue collar jobs are known for their boys’ club cultures, their seemingly unshakable macho attitude. Bathrooms are scarce and "locker room talk" seems inevitable.
Often, for women, there are issues of isolation and sexual harassment, and there are very few mentorship opportunities. In response, many female workers have taken up acting more masculine at work or leaving the industry altogether, falling in line with a “beat‘em or join‘em” ethos.
How women can get into blue-collar fields
What happens if and when a woman wants to throw down a hammer or drive a bulldozer? One job center, Nontraditional Employment for Women (NEW) in New York City, is teaching and guiding women and nonbinary individuals to do just that.
NEW serves to help unions, contractors, and developers hire more women and nonbinary folk by training them in skilled trades of their choosing. NEW’s employees guide them through the application process, help their students prepare for the interview or qualifying test, and aid graduates in finding and securing a stable job.
Just some of the various occupations NEW offers training for include construction work, carpentry, welding, plumbing, painting, driving buses, and electrician work. The only prerequisites to joining NEW are having a high school diploma or GED, being over the age of 18, and the ability to do eight hours of manual labor a day.
Outside NEW, other organizations like Women Who Weld and Professional Women in Construction have also pledged to place women in blue-collar roles. Professional Women in Construction even offers programming and mentorship events to their network so women in similar situations can connect and support one another.
Hopefully these initiatives will continue to create opportunities for underserved communities, and they will aid them in advocating for equal treatment across the board.