Did you know that more women volunteer than men? Or that more women work in so-called communal roles – jobs that are more focused on caring for others – than their male counterparts? Nowadays, we don’t think twice about seeing a female police officer, but a male hairdresser’s sexuality is often called into question.
UBC Psychology PhD candidate Alyssa Croft discusses this dynamic and highlights the benefits of getting more men to take on female-dominated roles in the midst of National Volunteer Week (April 12-18).
Croft is the lead author of “An Underexamined Inequality: Cultural and Psychological Barriers to Men’s Engagement With Communal Roles,” recently published in Personality and Social Psychology Review.
What are “communal roles?”
They’re the roles, tasks and jobs that we tend to associate more with women – traits include being involved with and caring about other people, warmth, nurturing.
Communal roles include occupations like nursing and early childhood education – where women drastically outnumber men. Volunteering is another great example. These are referred to as “pro-social” behaviors – undertaken for the common good or the benefit of others.
What’s the breakdown in terms of men, women and communal roles?
Communal roles are juxtaposed with “agentic roles” – those that have to do with independence, autonomy, and often status or power. Agentic roles are more associated with men than they are with women. That said, there’s been a societal shift to encourage more women to enter agentic domains previously occupied by men, such as the STEM fields – science, technology, engineering and math.
Whereas women continue to move into male-dominated roles and occupations, it’s not the case that men have correspondingly filled roles that women have traditionally occupied. There’s going to be a huge need for men in communal roles – particularly in areas such as health care, including nursing, social work and hospital administration, especially as the baby boomer population ages.
What are some barriers to men’s increased involvement in these roles?
Typically, roles associated with men are afforded higher status in society, while those associated with women are devalued. So there’s a real status cost for men who might want to take on female-oriented roles and careers.
Status is an external barrier, and there are others. Men may be afraid of facing backlash from others or being labelled as gay if they’re in a female-dominated profession. Male hairdressers, for example, are very rare to see – especially straight male hairdressers, because of the associated stigma. Women’s roles pay less too, so there’s also a monetary barrier.
Internal barriers involve how our sense of self is shaped, from a very early age, by societal expectations and stereotypes. These impact how we identify with our gender – the degree to which we say I’m a woman or a man, and therefore I should do x or y because that is what men/women are supposed to do.
What are the benefits of getting men more engaged in communal roles?
One of the key arguments made when governments started funding recruitment of women into STEM fields was to promote diversity in occupations and a more egalitarian workplace. The same arguments apply in terms of getting men more involved in female-dominated roles and fields.
A lot of communal roles are directed at pro-social behaviors. So if we can promote communalism in everybody – not necessarily just men – then that could be good for all. Social connections are one of our greatest sources of happiness, and oftentimes there are emotional barriers to men feeling like they can connect.
For couples who work full-time, women still do the lion’s share of household and childcare work. If men picked up more of the slack in terms of the domestic sphere, this would also encourage domestic equality.
Families with more involved fathers fare better in a lot of ways. Parents have greater marital satisfaction, kids have better psychological and behavioral outcomes. Daughters of dads who help out more with housework and childcare have more ambitious career goals. Perhaps they’re seeing what dads are doing, and that’s sending signals about what they can do in the future.
This Q & A originally appeared on the UBC News website.