Pushes and Pulls for Professional Women
Gender divides in the types of work men and women often do contribute to inequality in earnings, yet women face continued difficulty entering predominantly men’s jobs. Now, in Gender & Society, Latonya Trotter finds that it’s not just exclusion from men’s professions, but the inclusionary policies of women’s professions that maintain distinctly gendered fields.
To understand how gendered organizations develop institutional norms that cater to women, Trotter turned to the case of nurse practitioners. The ethnographer interviewed nurse practitioners and observed classes and events that were part of their profressional advancement. She identified a number of practices in the profession that attract women.
Within the hierarchy of nursing, nurse practitioners are high status, high earning, and highly trained, and this profession has become a desirable alternative for women interested in medicine, but who choose not to commit to the longer training (and hours) of medical school, want children, and appreciate the autonomy and flexibility of a nursing career. These women can work part-time and take a long time to finish their schooling; there are no career penalties for taking time off, and seniority is not highly rewarded in the profession.
The flexibility of the nursing profession must be understood in conjunction with the inflexibility of other occupations and workplaces; that flexibility also means female nurse practitioners can have good careers while still prioritizing men’s professional paths. When only some occupations offer that possibility, it’s little wonder they prove particularly attractive to female professionals.