Step Outside the Mold for a High Paying Job

This post is part of the topic Increasing Income for Women’s Money Week.

Want more money? Then step away from expectations about your behavior, what you should and shouldn’t do and what you can and can’t do!  Step outside the mould that the world has created for females in the work force.

You need to be self sufficient, if you are going to work, why not work at something that pays well?

We have inhibitors!

It is sometimes very difficult to swim upstream of prevailing cultural, family and peer expectations. As Dr. Hilary Lips says in Blaming Women’s Choices for the Gender Pay Gap in 2009:

“From childhood onward, we view media that consistently portray men more often than women in professional occupations and in masculine-stereotyped jobs. Not surprisingly, researchers find that the more TV children watch, the more accepting they are of occupational gender stereotypes. Why does the acceptance of gender stereotypes matter? Gender-stereotyped messages about particular skills (e.g., “males are generally better at this than females”) lower women’s beliefs in their competence—even when they perform at exactly the same level as their male counterparts. In such situations, women’s lower confidence in their abilities translates into a reluctance to pursue career paths that require such abilities. “

Boys (with lower grades and fewer skills) I went to high school with went on to earn engineering degrees, translating into lucrative careers. I earned a liberal arts degree that didn’t translate into any job at all, let alone a career. I never even considered (way back in 1968), going into the engineering program. Every one knew that was for boys!

Mom was a teacher. She was a WWII era female. She earned the first college degree in her family and the first Masters degree in her married family. She taught me that I ‘can do anything’; yet I had to wear dresses to school – which limited my physical doings; I had to take home econ in high school instead of shop; I was steered by counselors and educators, neighbors and friends into occupations for women. Even Mom approved of my liberal arts choice.

Years later (after re-training for a career that actually paid good money), I asked her why she didn’t advise me to get my degree in another area. Her response? I thought you could work as a school counselor (I had a concentration in psychology).  To be fair, she had suggested a career as a dentist to me earlier in high school – which I chose to ignore – who ever saw a woman dentist?!

In reality, women’s choices have been limited in the past. According to a paper by Karen H. Jones at the The University of Georgia Career Aspirations of Women in the 20th Century:

 “Gender is clearly one of the most powerful of all influences on vocational behavior”.

In the 1970’s and 1980’s choices were more limited than today. But gender alone isn’t responsible. Race, parent’s occupation and educational level, parental expectations and socioeconomic status all play a part. Overcoming expectations and objections in all of these areas can be quite a trial.

YOUR career deserves your time.

Even if you do manage to select a career field with high potential, women often make less than men in similar jobs. One factor in this is the time available for women to devote to the job – according to What Women Do in the Economist  quoting the World Bank:

“But the main reason that women cluster in low-paid fields, the bank argues, is that they do not control their own time. In rich Austria and Italy, women do at least three times as much housework and child care as men.”

Think about that one…..who does the dusting in your house? Who gets the groceries, hauls them home, puts them away and cooks them – most often. Who gets called when the kid has a fever at school and who has to leave work to go get them, take them to an alternate sitter or stay home with them?  Why should HIS career deserve more of his time than your career does of your time?

How to find the high pay.

Look around at who does what and for what pay and perks. A Google search for top paying careers yields multiple lists with explanations of what the job is, what the pay is, where it is concentrated and etc. I found it interesting that if you search for “top paying careers for” it pre-fills the end of the text with “women” and gives results based on what women are paid and lists different choices. Huh? Should that be?

Figure out how to get into the high paying field you want to pursue. You might have to think about several options before you will find the one that works for you. Do it now, before your back is against the wall financially and before you get a kick in the butt like I did. Here is my story, one I haven’t ever told before.

My story, the trigger that drove me to a high paying career.

As I mentioned above, my 4 year degree is a BA in Psychology, which never yielded any decent paying jobs. I started as a management trainee at JC Penny in 1972 for $5000 a year. Hubby started as a management trainee for Sears that same year for $7000 – pretty much the same job at different stores, but we won’t get into gender pay gap here.

Anyway, we had kids soon after and I (of course) stayed home with them for 10 years. In the meantime, he had served two years in the Army as a private and had gotten out and found a job with the US Government. By then we were kicking like mad to keep our noses above water financially.

He was feeling trapped in a low paying job, working 10 hours a day. I was home with kids, working every kind of menial low paying job I could find (think waitress at Pizza Hut and delivering newspaper fliers door to door with a baby on my back) when he was home – nights and weekends.

I was mad, he was mad. Words were spoken and he revealed that he didn’t think I was pulling my financial weight. Now I have always been pretty independent and self sufficient. I was horrified at this revelation. I felt we were close to divorce. I knew I couldn’t support myself and my kids if that happened.  It was my trigger to act.

That revelation caused a long slow burn in me. I was bound and determined to end up earning more than him, and also determined not to cost a dime of money he earned to get there.

So, I looked around at the job market to see what kinds of jobs were paying well. I saw that computer programmers were desperately needed and got pretty darn good money. I also saw that additional educational requirements were fairly low for me. I already had a degree, I just needed to learn how to program, so I concocted a plan.

I worked from home, starting a licensed day care home, providing child care to others for 2 years to earn enough to go back to the community college to pick up the courses required to get an associates in data processing.

My long slow burn caused me to get straight A’s, apply for and land a computer lab job at the school, and track my income and expenses. It helped spur my job search and salary negotiation and it helped me job hop to better salaries as my experience grew.

Yes, I ended up as a highly paid computer professional, managing groups of software engineers on large mainframe projects and earning over $120K per year prior to retirement. Yes, my salary was much higher than his, from the third year on.

But wouldn’t it have been better for us all if I had done that research early (before earning the BA) and ignored expectations of society, parents and peers to earn a degree that would have started us off in a better position.

Don’t wait for a trigger, find a highly paid career path now!

You can do that! Don’t wait for life to push you into it as I did. It’s OK to love your job. I did love mine. It was challenging, provided an opportunity to travel, had a lot of perks and really kept me engaged all the years I did it. You can enjoy a high paying job as much as a low paying one – probably more!

So, don’t be part of this story, reported by Women’s Media in Blaming Women’s Choices for the Gender Pay Gap:

“Women continue to be clustered in low-paid occupational categories: office and administrative support and various service jobs. While they now make up a majority of university students, they are concentrated in academic specialties that lead to lower paid occupations: education rather than engineering, for example.”

If only I had listened to Mom in high school when she suggested I should be come a dentist. Dentists are among the highest paying jobs today. But then, so are computer and systems information mangers!

Your generation is doing better.

I’m glad to see my daughter in laws pursuing registered nursing, but I am DELIGHTED to know that they both intend to earn a masters so they can be nurse practitioners or nursing managers, where the real money is!

I’m excited to see my niece pursue a law degree, I hope she can help reduce the gender gap in pay between male and female lawyers!

How did you pick your job or career? Have you stepped outside the ‘female’ mould?  Tell us about it!