Are women moving into male-dominated roles in tough economic times?


It may be generations before we can fully understand the impact the pandemic, the subsequent economic downturn and the cost of living crisis have had on the world. However, in the immediate aftermath of such a troubling time, we now know that people are looking for more flexible working solutions and they are also less willing to do a job that brings them little satisfaction.

A shift in the job market ensued, with people turning down jobs in their droves due to unsuitable shift patterns, a lack of remote working and a lack of job satisfaction. Others were made redundant from jobs not deemed ‘essential’, forcing them to take a different career path.

This saw people move into alternate industries to restart their careers, but while the norm may have changed what has it done to workplace gender stereotypes? With almost everyone impacted by such tough times, how has the role women have in the workplace changed and have they found success in typically male-dominated roles?

What is a gender-dominated occupation?

Whether it’s through stereotypes passed on through generations or certain roles appealing more to particular genders, there is no denying that some industries are dominated by one or the other. A gender-dominated occupation sees 25% or fewer of the opposite sex in the same role, and there are a surprising number of roles that fit into this category.

Research by Working Futures in 2021 discovered that the most male-dominated occupation is the ‘vehicle technician, mechanic and electrician’ with just 0.81% of the workforce represented by women. At the other end of the scale, ‘nursery nurses and assistants’ was the most female-dominated occupation, with just 2.23% of the workforce represented by males.

As you might expect, stereotypical male roles such as trades, tech jobs, drivers, butchers and even sports players are heavily skewed in favour of men.

The top ten male-dominated roles are:

  1. Vehicle technicians, mechanics and electricians (0.81%)
  2. Carpenters and joiners (0.99%)
  3. Electricians and electrical fitters (1.73%)
  4. Plumbers and heating and ventilating engineers (1.93%)
  5. Metalworking production and maintenance fitters (1.93%
  6. Mobile machine drivers and operatives (2.1%)
  7. Large goods vehicle drivers (2.57%)
  8. Fork-lift truck drivers (2.61%)
  9. Elementary construction occupations (3.03%)
  10. Glaziers, window fabricators and fitters (3.45%)

What barriers do women typically face for these ‘masculine’ roles?

Unfortunately, there are common barriers for women that often prohibit them from entering into many of these occupations or industries. From unwelcoming masculine language in job adverts to pigeonholing by hiring managers, changes must be made to promote more inclusive workplaces.

If we take a job role such as HGV driver as an example, the barriers to entry are commonly steeped in stereotypes, while women may also worry about being on their own overnight and far away from home. Just 2.57% of the HGV workforce are women and there is no reason that figure should be so low. Particularly as the percentage of male and female drivers on our roads, in general, is split at 51.52% to 48.48% just in favour of men.

Skills gap driving women forwards

From the notion that women can’t dedicate their time to learning how to drive a HGV due to family and relationship commitments, to the common misconception about female drivers, these barriers should be eliminated. Especially as male drivers are statistically more likely to have an accident than women.

Despite these obstacles, there are signs that even such a male-dominated occupation is changing to become more inclusive. For this particular industry, training can be completed in a matter of weeks, sometimes even days, which make it a viable route to work for many following the HGV skills gap crisis in 2021. As such, the numbers stabilised and that’s in part thanks to the efforts made to break the stereotype by the HGV and trucking industry.

The quest for economic empowerment

According to the OECD, (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), “Economic empowerment is the capacity of women and men to participate in, contribute to and benefit from growth processes in ways that recognise the value of their contributions, respect their dignity and make it possible to negotiate a fairer distribution of the benefits of growth”.

The OECD adds, “Economic empowerment increases women’s access to economic resources and opportunities including jobs, financial services, property and other productive assets, skills development and market information.”

During these tough economic times, men and women have changed how they view their career aspirations and now more than ever people are going for careers and jobs that they find appealing. For example, wedding planning was once a female-driven occupation but with the rise of LGBTQ+ couples getting married, this is shifting with more males getting involved than ever before.

One technique which also appears to help remove gender bias is a skills-based approach to hiring, rather than relying on a CV to make decisions about potential recruits. This approach has seen a 70% increase in senior role hires for women, an organisational position that is commonly reserved for male employees. Looking at skills and key competencies rather than their credentials ensures a fairer hiring process.

Choosing self-employment

When it comes to self-employment, a historical gap between men and women has been a wide one. In 1992 the difference between the number of self-employed men and women in the UK was 1.6 million in favour of men.

However, since 2020, that gap has narrowed and now it’s 1.2 million with an uptake in self-employed women going from 899,000 in 1992 to 1,507,000 in 2022. What is also interesting about this data is that around 2020, and the time of the pandemic, the number of self-employed women increased significantly while the number of men running their own businesses dropped dramatically.

Signs that male-dominated roles are becoming more equal

Pre 2020, there were signs that women were forging their path in male-dominated industries. A report by CNBC showcases the roles that women have made gains in being hired in 2019 as the gender bias begins to wane.

The top roles in the 2019 report are:

5. Public policy specialist – 54.0% share of women hired

4. Dental technician – 54.1% share of women hired

3. Medical officer – 54.7% share of women hired

2. Graphic production manager – 54.9% share of women hired

1. Retail operations manager – 65.3% share of women hired

With a more open approach to finding jobs that suit our lifestyles and career aspirations, a more flexible approach toward employees and inclusion initiatives, gender-dominated roles are slowly dissipating. There may still be some roles that appeal to one gender more than the other but the important thing is that the barriers to entry are removed.

Still some way to go for workplace gender equality

Despite the reduction in the level of flagrant sexism in the workplace, there is an argument to be made that it still exists, largely in the form of the gender pay gap. Elizabeth L. Campbell, PhD, MSc, assistant professor of management at UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management, finds that “Women are likely to end up with jobs that are below their qualification level relative to men, which is evidence of gender inequality being perpetuated in hiring decisions”.

The professor’s findings show that hiring managers deem it more acceptable to underpay an overskilled woman versus their male counterparts. While efforts are made to encourage more women into male-dominated roles, the difference in pay may take decades to reduce after little movement in the past 25 years.

When concerning ourselves with occupational segregation, there remains a clear disparity between women and men in both high-paying and low-paying roles. Highly paid roles such as pilots, dentists and architecture managers are skewed in favour of men, while lower paid jobs such as childcare workers, hosts and cashiers are largely held by women.

About the Author


Dakota Murphey is a freelance writer from the UK who specialises in: Digital Trends, Business, Marketing, PR & Branding, Cybersecurity, Entrepreneurial Skills and Company Growth.

Find out more about Dakota here:

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