The Road Not Taken: Career Edition

There’s no doubt about it — competition is high in today’s labor market, and there’s something interesting that the team at ZipRecruiter has discovered about the different ways men and women choose to leverage their education and work experience.

While men and women have similar levels of education, they tend to enter different lines of work after leaving school. Contributing factors of this trend include cultural norms, family and community expectations, and institutional biases. No matter the reason, the result is what we refer to as occupational segregation: “the division of labour, in the context of paid employment, as a result of which men and women (or members of different ethnic or religious groupings) are channeled into different types of occupational roles and tasks, such that there are two (or more) separate labour forces.”

What we found in our data is that occupational segregation is likely reinforced over time as men and women gain different work experience and skills on-the-job that they then use to move their careers forward. In a sense, this separation of men and women into different professions becomes “locked-in.” As one gender gains the experience and skills that make them great candidates for a particular field (and less likely to switch to a different field), the other gender falls behind in the skills necessary to compete in that field — making it harder for them to break in.

ZipRecruiter’s data shows that for eight of the 15 degree levels candidates fall into (for example, GED or bachelor’s), neither gender represents more than 60% of the resumes on ZipRecruiter. For an additional 4 degree levels, neither gender represents more than 65% of the resumes — meaning that for 12 out of 15 education levels, neither gender has a supermajority in the pool of jobseekers.

However, there are over 40 job titles for which women make up more than 70% of job seekers with that previous experience. Most of the top ten job experiences in which women are overrepresented are in the healthcare industry or in office jobs. Women make up more than 85% of job seekers with receptionist experience, as well as more than 82% of job seekers with medical assistant experience, and more than 80% of job seekers with RN experience.

When we look at the skills section of resumes, we see the same trend. Our data shows that there are 23 specific resume skills for which women represent at least 70% of job seekers with that skill listed. Unsurprisingly, these skills reflect the job experiences for which women are overrepresented. For example, women make up more that 85% of job seekers with the skill of making travel arrangements — their most overrepresented — listed on their resume. Additional skills for which women are overrepresented include medical billing, medical records, and phlebotomy (all of which important skills in the healthcare industry).

But this trend is not only limited to women. On the contrary, there are 29 job titles for which men make up more than 70% of job seekers with that previous experience. The industries in which men are overrepresented include warehousing, driving, and construction. Men make up more than 84% of job seekers with truck driving experience, more than 83% of job seekers with forklift operating experience, and more than 80% of job seekers with experience as a painter.

When it comes to resume skills, there are 39 for which men represent at least 70% of job seekers with that skill. Examples include plumbing, which is the most overrepresented skill for males with over 80% representation. Welding, piping, electricity, pumping, blueprint reading, remodeling, and molding all have over 75% male representation. Given this pool of applicants, it’s little wonder that men make up an overwhelming majority of those employed in construction and extraction occupations.

Occupational segregation has been around a long time, and can be seen across a wide variety of industries. What our data is showing us is that the accumulation of experience and skills over time reinforces whatever’s driving the two genders to pursue divergent career paths in the first place. This is important because we’re in an era where some industries are shrinking in terms of numbers of jobs (manufacturing and retail), while others are growing (healthcare) — and no one wants to get locked into a career path that is disappearing.

As individuals continue to gain experience and invest in skills pertinent to their industry, workers can propel their careers forward within that one field. However, it is crucial for men and women to gain and maintain a variety of skills and experience through volunteer opportunities, internships, and extracurricular activities that can be advantageous in making a career change further down the line.

And in the process of making our careers more adaptable, we can also work to break down gender barriers across career fields.

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Written by

ZipRecruiter's former Chief Economist, Cathy Barrera is the founding economist of Prysm Group, a leading blockchain economics and governance design firm.

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