Changing how we position women in ‘male jobs’

A newspaper report on the increase in number of female students enrolled as resource and infrastructure engineering trainees at Canberra Institute of Technology highlights how problematic positioning women in ‘non-traditional’ jobs can be.

The reporter (Scott Hannaford of The Canberra Times, 31 May 2010) writes that “The open cut pits of Australia’s remote iron ore mines are not the first places many would go looking for a feminist revolution.” He goes on to say that if anything can be read into the latest crop of trainees “the blokes had better brace themselves, because the revolution is coming”.

In a course of 23 members we are told there are more girls than boys enrolled. We are not told how many. If it is 12 girls, then this is hardly a revolution. Regardless of the number, it is still not a revolution.

By choosing the word ‘revolution’ the writer positions this shift as something potentially threatening and certainly seriously changing.

Students are quoted as referring to the mining industry as a ‘male profession’, that women have only recently been allowed into these areas, and girls are wanting to show that they can do male jobs.

What is not stated about these comments is that no job is ‘male’ or ‘female’. They have been positioned this way, socially constructed to favour one gender over another. It’s not that girls need to show they can do these jobs. Let’s assume they can and give them the opportunity to do so. Allowing and disallowing people to do jobs alludes to patriarchal structures that favour a particular distribution of power. If this power structure is called into question and possibly changed, then yes perhaps there is a revolution in the wind.

How often we hear this approach: Look out, women coming, problems arising. Tainting the discussion with references to ‘feminist revolution’ subtly demonises this progress and marks it with a ‘look out’ sign.

As pointed out during a Sydney ideas forum on ‘Why feminism matters’ (

what we’re dealing with is gender ordering of the workforce. Rather than seeing women’s under-representation as the issue, perhaps we should focus on the ‘problem’ of men’s over-representation in some areas. The strategies we would use would then be vastly different. Rather than seeing what we can do to get women into these roles, or perhaps as well as, we could look at strategies to reduce the number of men in certain roles. And to be fair, we’d have to do the same for areas of over representation of women.

Dr Ann Villiers, career coach, writer and author, is Australia’s only Mental Nutritionist specialising in mind and language practices that help people build flexible thinking, confident speaking and quality connections with people.