By Joan Runnheim Olson
Counselors play a critical role in steering students in class selection, and ultimately career choice. Gender stereotypes may result in an unknowing bias when providing guidance to students. What can be done to increase counselor's awareness of nontraditional careers for females, including those in science, technology, engineering, and math?
Gender Stereotypes. Gender stereotypes begin at birth when girls are dressed in pink, boys in blue. Girls are given dolls with which to play and boys are given trucks. Parents often assign stereotypical chores to their daughters and sons, with girls often washing dishes and cleaning house and boys mowing the lawn and taking out the garbage. In school, females are often guided to choose classes that are traditional for their gender and careers considered "pink-collar," those in the service or helping fields. While a traditional career may be a good fit for some females, it's important for them to be aware of all of their career options.
Setting a Goal. The Computer Networking and Technology (CNIT) department at the City College of San Francisco was able to increase the percentage of women in their classes from 19% to 35%. One strategy this college used was making a presentation to the counseling department about the CNIT program and other related careers and making the counselors aware that it was a key goal of their department to increase the number of female students.
Recruiting through Marketing Materials. The counselors were provided with marketing collateral featuring women in CNIT, which included brochures, posters, and flyers displayed throughout the college's multiple campuses. This marketing approach combined with sharing a key goal with counselors resulted in a 16% increase in the number of females in classes in the CNIT department. Counselors can provide a pipeline for female students.
Assess yourself and your school for gender equity. Whether you are working with female students in an educational setting or working with clients in helping them explore career choices, be sure not to eliminate nontraditional career options.