With women making up half of the labor force, and sixty percent of women working, you might be wondering what the best careers for women actually are. Since entering into the labor force, women have faced pay inequities and still only earn on average eighty percent of their male counterparts. And despite laws against it, women in many fields and workplace environments face subtle discrimination and even harassment issues.
Defining the “best” careers for women is obviously a subjective manner. A traditional thought process is that the best women’s careers are those that (1) allow them the flexibility to work and take care of their children and (2) call upon stereotypical women’s characteristics. For this reason, women have historically outnumbered men in nursing, K-12 education, office administration/assisting, waitressing, housekeeping, and other service fields. Although these fields might provide the flexibility women are looking for in a job or require “female” characteristics—a nurturing or sympathetic attitude, stereotypically—they are pink collar jobs, and women consistently fall behind men in their earnings in these fields. These fields also require little education, making advancement in salary and responsibilities difficult.
How can we, as women, combat this historical trend and advance our career satisfaction, our achievements, and our salaries? In a recent episode of Tom Ashbrook’s “On Point” on National Public Radio, one expert in women’s economics said the best career for women might be entrepreneurship, or small business start-up. The expert claimed that women, in their domestic duties, often think entrepreneurially, deriving creative solutions for problems (how to balance a busy family schedule), managing a budget (household finances), and constantly striving to meet the needs of their families. In this way, some women may be natural entrepreneurs. Furthermore, entrepreneurship may also give women the flexibility they require to work from home or make a domestic hobby, cooking or crafting, for example, into a profitable business.
Forbes magazine, however, suggests women might take a different approach to finding the best career for them. Included in their list of the ten best-paying jobs for women in 2009 are chief executive officers, pharmacists, speech-language pathologists, computer scientists and systems analysts, and occupational therapists. According to Forbes, these are generally non-traditional careers for women and are careers that require more education than pink-collar jobs. These are also fields that are exhibiting the most growth in our economy, so it may be easier for women to reach equal pay with their male counterparts.
In line with this thought process, women might also think about exploring other careers that are expected to grow most rapidly in the next several years. According to U.S. News and World Report, these fields include the above Forbes top jobs as wells as biomedical engineering, environmental science technicians, hydrologists, civil engineers, financial advisers, market research analysts, veterinarians, and commercial pilots. So why not think big and explore a new career? It might be the best professional decision you ever make.