Last updated: March 03. 2013 12:24AM - 1345 Views

Wilkes professor Jennifer Thomas discusses gender roles in various occupations.
Wilkes professor Jennifer Thomas discusses gender roles in various occupations.
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WILKES-BARRE — For women to succeed in male-dominated career areas, having a role model is as important as having all the right credentials.

Jennifer Thomas, associate professor of psychology at Wilkes University, said a successful race car driver such as Danica Patrick will inspire more women to enter non-traditional careers.

“You can’t be what you can’t see,” Thomas said. “Young women can relate to a person rather than a career definition.”

Women have been under-represented in career area such as media, politics and science, Thomas said. Men are often given more credibility and are offered higher wages for the same positions, she said.

“The tendency is to undervalue women,” said Thomas. “Decision makers have these unconscious, implicit stereotypes for certain positions. Just seeing the applicant is a man gives them more credibility.”

To prove her point, Thomas cited a study done by Moss-Racusin in 2012. She said job applicant materials were sent to scientists, both male and female, at the top research institutions in the United States. The materials were identical except that half the participants read that the applicant’s name was John and the other half saw Jennifer.

“Even though the materials were exactly the same, both male and female scientists were more likely to hire John, to say that John was more deserving of mentorship and to offer John a significantly higher salary (on average $4,000 higher) than if they were to hire Jennifer,” Thomas said. “This study clearly shows that there is a gender bias in the sciences. Males are perceived as more competent than females. And this is sexist because the application materials were exactly the same.”

Thomas said although the population is half female, the 113th Congress, which has the highest number of female members of any Congress, is composed of only 18 percent women. Only 4 percent of the Fortune 500 company CEOs were women in 2012, she said.

“Not only does a more diverse pool of political candidates allow for new and different voices for change, it also represents an opportunity for women to feel less alienated from politics and to become more politically aware and active,” she said. “Women who see other women serving as politicians perceive the government to be legitimate. More importantly, they see the government as legitimate even when the government does not do what they want it to do.”

Go Daddy role diminishes

Thomas said when a woman sees another woman working as a politician, that woman is “transformed, empowered and inspired” to become more politically active.

“I would expect that Danica Patrick could have the same effect on women who want to enter automotive fields,” she said. “However, these women will face prejudice and discrimination for breaking from traditional gender roles.”

Thomas also noted that Patrick’s looks are depicted in the media — something that doesn’t happen to male drivers — and this is something Patrick herself plays into as seen in her Go Daddy commercials.

“That devalues her as a race car driver,” Thomas said.

That aside, despite Patrick’s success and providing that role model for young women, the path to success in male-dominated careers remains long and bumpy.

“Women who choose these non-traditional careers will have a hard time,” she said. “I’m sure they will have to jump through a lot more hoops to prove themselves.”

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