How's Your 'Girly Job' Treating You?

Well, “what’s a ‘Girly Job,’” you might ask? Just take a minute to think about it. What professions are dominated by women and poorly paid? As a recent New York Times article suggests, these jobs involve caring for and nurturing people (social work, therapy, early childhood education, home and personal care, etc). Basically it’s the type of work that women have traditionally been expected to do for free: caring for the very young and old, mending fractured relationships, nursing, tending, nurturing, organizing, and providing emotional support.

So why are these jobs so underpaid?

We live in a society that values ‘measurable outcomes’, which in economic terms almost always means money. So how do you put a dollar value on good health, stable functioning, a strong upbringing, or a dignified end of life? We haven’t gotten there yet, and there’s also the problem of these jobs being associated with ‘feminine’ characteristics. We unfortunately still live in a culture that views traditionally masculine traits as more important: ambition, intelligence, practicality.

I’m not saying ‘Girly Jobs’ don’t require those traits: they absolutely do. The trouble is that despite the fact that a lot of us have extensive training, including graduate school, society thinks that caring for people doesn’t require as much skill as building things or making money. The cultural script still says that all you need to help people is ‘niceness’. And we all know that no one is nicer than women, right?

Given the huge gap in pay scales between jobs that are traditionally male or female, a lot of people (mostly women) end up having to choose between doing what they love and being paid what they’re worth.

So what can we do about it?

  1. First of all, you’re going to have to accept that you won’t be rolling in money. A large part of you went into therapy for more intangible rewards: you want to like your job and feel good about what you do, right?
  2. Get smart about how you do business. You may be in a profession that pays comparatively less than Big Oil, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t carefully create a clear and structured business plan, and make the most of what you’ve got.
  3. Diversify! If you work with people every day, you’ve got skills and expertise that are unique, interesting and useful. Have confidence in what you have to offer: you can consult, train, write for blogs or local newspapers, conduct and publish research, do speaking gigs, etc.
  4. Do more group work. Use your time wisely, and make the numbers work for you. Group work and workshops can be of great benefit to your clients, and can up your hourly rate exponentially, so everybody wins.
  5. Be a political animal. Advocacy can look like a lot of different things, and can be as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. Whether it’s talking to your local representative about changes you want to see in government, working with your professional body, or just talking to other people about the issue, as Mahatma Ghandi said, ‘Be the change you want to see in the world’. Every little bit helps.


The difference between the way men and women are valued is real. I don't have a girly job (programming) but I would never ever in a million years use "Alexandra" on my resume; I doubt I'd get half as many call backs.

Heather - Thanks for putting the word out on the importance of Advocacy (also a "girly" job - and seriously underpaid as a profession in most cases) and it's importance. I have found every point you make to be true, and what needs to happen is a mindset shift. That can only come about from enough people making enough noise that the poor attitudes get noticed and changed. By the way - although it IS usually woman who are hurt most; not always. Male nurses, for example, especially the "floor" or care-giving nurses and aides - they could tell a few stories, too. We need to value our caregivers, of all kinds, regardless of their gender - and we need to suppport them with better pay and better benefits so that they can take care of their own families and their own bodies (more work for our massage therapists!) as would be optimal in such a demainding profression. Thanks for bringing this discussion out of the closet again. Denise

I agree, Denise- caregiving jobs are terribly underpaid, and it's such hard work, both physically and mentally, yet really gets no concrete acknowledgement as such. There's lots of advocacy work to do there! I hear your point about male nurses; I think that while women are expected to go into helping professions and be paid less, there's a whole different kind of pressure for men who decide to go that route. We've all heard that question that male nurses get asked: 'so you couldn't get into med school, hey?' I guess the bottom line is that these jobs don't get a lot of respect regardless of who is doing them (though it's usually women), and that's a real problem. Thanks for your comments!

Great post! I used to joke that I wished I wanted to be an accountant, for the reasons you talked about with the financial stuff. Your five ways of doing something about it are awesome!

Thanks Jen! Glad you liked it!

Heather and Jen: The 5 Points are most definitely helpful - good reminders of things we should be doing to further the "cause" while still making a living. I do believe that the time is coming when we WILL get more respect; because the "other; read=more traditionally male jobs" will be fewer and fewer, while more and more of us are in need of care-giving. I think we are in an awkward transition time - we had an agricultural revolution, an industrial revolution, and now I believe we are about to have a "human services" revolution - we just don't always see it as caregivers because we are in the midst of it. But we are the trailblazers for generations to come; so we must remember to project positives attitudes towards the nurturing professions while being science-oriented, too. I am Woman; Hear Me Roar! Denise

It is interesting to examine/ gain perspective on the inherent feminine nature of undervalued caregiving jobs. The very instance of undervalued anything is in opposition to the feminine impulse towards knowing the other (often through nurturance). In a world where we can find/ learn/ know anything, human touch and the creative impulse of our humanity becomes precious; an important technology. As we embrace and value with equanimity, we become equanimous.

Thank you Megan, for that food for thought - both emotional and cerebral. And what an interesting concept you are on to there - human touch as technology. Great way to bridge the gap, I think. Denise