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Why More Men Are Choosing 'Pink Collar Jobs'


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Throughout the program today, we've talked a lot about tough times for college students and jobseekers, but now we want to turn it around and talk about people who are finding job satisfaction in what might be unexpected places.

We're talking about men who are entering fields that have been dominated by women for some time. We found this story in the New York Times, whose reporters crunched the numbers and found that from the year 2000 to 2010, fields dominated by women - that means where the workforce is more than 70 percent female - accounted for a third of job growth for men. That includes teaching, nursing, social work, a number of other fields, and this trend is true for men of all different ages and races.

We wanted to learn more about this, so we've called upon some of the men who are living this. We've called upon Ray Salazar. He's a 12th grade writing teacher at Hancock High School. That's in Chicago. Also with us, Thomas Hargis. He works for Dismas Charities as the director of a reentry facility for returning citizens, former inmates in Greensboro, North Carolina. Javan Bryant (ph) is a preschool teacher at Raymond Education Campus in Washington, D.C. He also coaches middle school boys and girls basketball. And, finally, Mary Gatta. She is a senior scholar at the research group Wider Opportunities for Women. She conducted the original research on men entering female-dominated fields and she advised the New York Times as they extended the research to 2010.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

RAY SALAZAR: Thank you, Michel.


JOVAN BRYANT: Thanks for having us.

MARY GATTA: Thank you, Michel.

MARTIN: Mary Gatta, let me start with you. Fascinating study. It said that - and it's important to note - I think you'll want us to note this - that this doesn't mean that men are displacing women. The same occupational fields that you looked at accounted for almost two-thirds of women's job growth.

But, for example, you noted, in Texas, the number of men who are registered nurses nearly doubled in the time period. Men make up 23 percent of Texas public schoolteachers, 28 percent of first year teachers. That's in Texas. So what do you think accounts for this?

GATTA: All right. So what we're seeing is interesting, is that from the 1970s, '80s and '90s, where I had conducted research with Patricia Roos, we saw that men's growth in the labor market only kind of - the growth was only in a small number of predominantly female occupations. But we saw from 2000 forward that that growth has doubled.

Again, it's still a small number, but we've seen an increase, And there are a lot of factors that are at play here. First, these predominantly female occupations, like nursing and health care jobs, and teaching, were growing jobs in the 2000s, so there were more jobs available there.

We also saw during the recession that industries that were dominated by men were particularly hard hit with job cuts, so there were opportunities in more traditionally female jobs for men there, too.

MARTIN: So let me hear from some of the guys here. Javan Bryant, I know that you said that you like working with people, but did you set out to teach preschool?

BRYANT: Well, at first, when I finished college, I started working with kids with disabilities at Friendly High School. It's a local high school around here and I was working in the leisure and life skills program and I needed more money. So what I did - my friend kind of hooked me up with a job working with D.C. public schools. She told me I was going to be working with pre-K kids. I started. I fell in love with it. I mean, it wasn't my first option, but once I started, you know, it was something that I felt like I had to do because...

MARTIN: Because?

BRYANT: By me being from D.C. and, you know, growing in this area, I've also attended D.C. schools and I've seen - you know, most of my teachers were female teachers and a lot of us kids growing up in this area, we didn't have a lot of male role models.

And I figure, you know, by me knowing what these kids go through, I can, you know, be able to be their model - their male role model that they don't have in their life.

MARTIN: So being a man really is kind of intrinsic to your mission, in part, you know...


MARTIN: ...as a teacher. Ray Salazar, you started out as a teacher. You moved into education administration. You were actually on the path to going into, you know, administrative work, head of school work, but you chose to go back to the classroom. Why?

SALAZAR: I did, Michel. Yeah. In 2006, I had eight years of teaching experience, three years of administration and program management experience at the national and district level. The next logical path for me would have been to enroll in a principal preparation program. I had two good options here in Chicago.

And I thought about my little boy, who was a year and a half at that time, and I said, you know, I need to be an excellent father before I become an excellent principal and, since 2006, I've been back in the classroom and I love it. I think it's the right place for me to be and I can balance career and parenthood and all of the other responsibilities that I have so that I can still feel successful in multiple ways.

MARTIN: So work-life balance is a big deal for you and you often hear people talking about that that in relation to mothers and women. Do you think it's become - Ray, do you find that other friends of yours who I men are having these conversations now or you feel like it's OK to actually say it that in a way that it might not have been for your dad's generation?

SALAZAR: Absolutely. Yeah. You know, I had a good conversation with one of my buddies, Sergio Hernandez, not too long ago and we talked about the way that we were brought up, and the last essay that was just played reminded me a lot about that conversation and the things that, you know, the previous generation of fathers did not say to us. And, you know, there's definitely this generation of Latino dads I know is trying to make a bigger impact on children. You know, we definitely say a lot more and definitely find a way to spend more time with kids in more qualitative ways and in more meaningful ways.

MARTIN: Thomas Hargis, what about you? As I mentioned, you work at a re-entry facility for federal inmates. Why did you decide to get into social work?

HARGIS: I think it really boils down to something Ray touched on, is I think our generation is putting fatherhood first, really. And I would disagree in one sense. I think our fathers did tell us a lot by not telling us anything. A lot of people I know came from broken homes or from dysfunctional families and a lot of the males that I hang out with, we all have kids and we've all decided to take jobs with less money to be a better dad because we find that more fulfilling. We find it, you know, provides that flexibility. I can go have lunch with my child where I work. You know, I can jump down, go have lunch with her and that quality time you can't buy that. I don't care how much money you make in the corporate world, you can't buy time with your seven-year-old at lunch. And to have that flexibility to go coach my daughter's team, to go coach a high school team in my free time - social work in the field that I work in just gives you that flexibility and teachers have the summer off where they can take quality vacations and I think that's, we're kind of reclaiming those family vacations that once happened in the summer by being able to take jobs that we don't make a ton of money but we can provide for her family.

MARTIN: Our guests are Thomas Hargis, he's in social work; Ray Salazar and Jovan Bryant, who are both teachers; Mary Gatta. and researcher We're talking about the rise in men entering fields that had been dominated by women - at least in recent times.

You know, Mary Gatta, that really speaks to something else that you pointed out in your research, that you said that initially men who took so-called pink collar jobs - I apologize, that's not my phrase but - but that tended to be foreign born, non-English speakers with low education levels, men who in other words, had few choices. But now the trend has spread among men of nearly all races and ages, more than a third of whom have a college degree. And you said the shift is most pronounced among young, white college-educated men like Thomas Hargis. Mary?

GATTA: Right. Absolutely. I mean I think that's what's really interesting. And listening to the three men talk, it's also very interesting to hear how we're talking about looking for jobs that provide flexibility, provide work and family and that it's OK for men to say that they are looking for flexible, more flexible schedules and more control over their work. And I think that is a really important trend that hopefully continues because it continues to point out that while gender and gendered expectations kind of tended to direct people to jobs, right, women would become nurses, men would become engineers.

The ability to look at a job on your skills and your education and also what your passions are and what you want your life to look at - look like - is very, very important. So it's not just about men who have not a lot of options in the labor market looking towards female jobs because they can make an in in them, it's about what's going on broader within our labor market where men have more choices but are choosing jobs based on their passions, their skills and also their work-life balance.

MARTIN: I want to look at it in a different way, though. Jovan, I can, I'm just letting everybody know Jovan is actually kind of a big guy. And I can tell right now that the little kids just love up on you something terrible. I mean, they just love you.

BRYANT: Yes, they do.

MARTIN: You know, you were telling us earlier that as you were kind of getting in your car to come down here they were following you and trying to come with you.

BRYANT: Right.

MARTIN: Which was not allowed.


MARTIN: But I did want to ask if - and I'm not trying to cause stress here, but is there some resentment in a way? You're the only male in your teaching cluster and I sometimes wonder if some of the ladies kind of resent the attention that you get, the love you get because you're special?

BRYANT: I have actually had that label put on me before as being special. Some of the females that I do work with, they do say that I do get away with some things. And I mean it's - I don't plan for anything to happen. I mean, that just, I mean I have a good relationship with my administration and, you know, I have better relationships with them, with the kids. And, you know, a lot of the kids that I guess gravitated to them before I came. You know, they're now coming to me. And I don't think it's because, oh, I'm just the cool guy and I'm the big guy and I'm the basketball coach. I think it's because I am that male figure that a lot of them do not have at home.

Like I have some kids that like in my class someone might slip up and instead of saying, hey, Mr. Bryant, one called me dad and I was like what did you call me? He was like, oh, my bad, Mr. Bryant. And I think, you know, a lot of kids don't have that at home and when they come to school, you know, they see that, you know, me and the other, you know, my co-worker in my class with me, we have - it's like a family environment. You know, we have a male in the classroom and a female also and this is what they don't have at home.

MARTIN: But, you know, Ray Salazar, I wanted to ask you also about, you know, when it comes to women we're used to hearing the term glass ceiling.

SALAZAR: Mm-hmm.

MARTIN: But I wonder, Ray Salazar, in your case if you think there might have been a glass escalator, that, in fact, there was like pressure on you to move into administration or sort of the unspoken expectation that you'd move into, expectation in part because you are a man.

SALAZAR: You know, I did get a lot of comments, a lot of encouraging comments. Number one, a lot of positive comments based on my qualifications, right, to be able to lead a school. But I did hear from a lot of people, you know, we need more Latinos, we need more males, and that was a tough decision for me to make, you know, but at the end of the day I had to make a decision that was best for me and for my family.

And, you know, it's tough to really say if there's a glass escalator in education. You know, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, last year there were 1.1 million high school teachers, 58 percent of them were woman. There were over 800,000 education administrators, 65 percent of them were women. You know, while in Chicago, the last three CEOs of the Chicago public schools have been male. The last three presidents of the Chicago Teachers Union had been female. So it's tough to say. You know, in the last 17 years, 70 percent of the bosses that I've had have been female. So I don't know if gender automatically contributes to a quicker, you know, promotion path in education in Chicago. I think I'd have to look at a few more data points to say that.

MARTIN: Mm-hmm.

SALAZAR: And I think what we have to be careful about is, you know, the default argument always becomes men have it easier than women. And there's some truth to that, right? But I think we also have to remember that that while gender has some advantages, when we add race to gender, you know, in my case that brings about other challenges that other men may not have. When we add gender to race and to ethnicity - I am an American of Mexican descent - that brings about a whole bunch of other challenges. And, you know, sometimes there are situations where a woman's racial privileges will trump my gender advantages. So I think it's tough to say that being a man in education automatically gets you more opportunities.

MARTIN: Interesting. Thomas Hargis, what about you and your experience? Do you think there's any way that your gender affects how you are treated, you know, positively or negatively? And I'm not sure; do you work primarily with men or with women?

HARGIS: Our facility is dual, so we actually have men and women. My key staff, the ones that are basically my number two and three in charge, are both, and I work extremely well with them. My boss happens to be female, so the environment that I work at at Dismas is extremely diverse and we do that intentionally because our population is so diverse. So I would argue the opposite in that more often than not the more qualified individual, regardless of sex or race ends up outperforming all the other ones because it's a performance-based field from where we come from.

But yeah, I can definitely see in some social work circles that I get in around with it's predominantly female and it develops their own social groups and, for a lack of better word, cliques, but it all comes down to performance at the end of the day. You can't argue that.

MARTIN: So Mary Gatta, I'm curious about what your research shows on this point. And I'm also just interested in the couple of minutes that we have left here. We have about two and a half minutes left, just your take on what you think this might mean for the workforce. I mean, to Ray Salazar's point, I know that there's some data that says that with black male nurses, for example, that sometimes there is difficulty for them to get the professional respect that they deserve, that they are often treated as orderlies and not as skilled, you know, medical personnel, for example, that there is conflicting data on this point. But what's your take on this?

GATTA: So the glass escalator, just to kind of take it back for just a few seconds, has been talked about for years where it's sort of the opposite of the glass ceiling, where men are promoted at faster rates than women in predominantly female occupations. But I think what the three gentlemen are talking about is so critically important. First of all, the interactions of gender and race and ethnicity compound the situation. So it's not so simple as to say all men who enter into female-dominated occupations are going to see themselves ride a glass escalator.

What I think it talks about instead is that while we've seen men move into occupations that are predominantly female, the bulk of our labor force is still gender segregated. So for example, a third of all working women are clustered in 13 occupations. So while the trend I think is important and potentially promising that we can begin to look at occupations not based on kind of what we expect men and women to do but more what men and women want to do and then look at promotions in that same vein - as the gentleman you're talking about - looking at the performance basis, that will help to better integrate our labor market and ensure that all individuals, regardless of gender, or race or ethnicity, can gain access to the jobs that they want and be treated fairly.

But I think what is important in kind of in closing is that I think is a really exciting trend and I'm really excited by all three of the men here who talked about, you know, their passion for their different jobs and their attention to really attuning to both your life and your work needs. And I think that's very promising...


GATTA: ...when we talk about our future.

MARTIN: Mary Gatta is a senior scholar at the research group, Wider Opportunities for Women. She joined us from Lake Como, New Jersey. Ray Salazar is a 12th grade writing teacher at Hancock High School. He also writes the blog "The White Rhino" on ChicagoNow.com. He was with us from Chicago. Thomas Hargis is the director of a residential re-entry facility in Greensboro, North Carolina. He joined us from member station WFDD in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. And Jovan Bryant is a preschool teacher at Raymond Education Campus in Washington, D.C. He was here with us in Washington, D.C.

Thank you all so much. Happy Father's Day to the dads. Thanks for coming.

SALAZAR: Thank you, Michel.

BRYANT: Thanks for having me.

HARGIS: Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

(SOUNDBITE MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.