10 Fields Where the Glass Ceiling Isn't Even Cracked

During World War I, women did many jobs traditionally held by men. Here, a group of women are resurfacing a city street in London. Even in the 21st century, it would be rare to see a woman doing this type of work.
Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images

Many fields that were once all-male now have healthy numbers of women. In 1970, just 9.7 percent of American physicians were women. In 2015, the figure was 37 percent. Likewise, less than 5 percent of lawyers in 1970 were women and the 2015 percentage is 35 [source: Strasser, BLS]. It's not unusual to see a female accountant, manager or scientist anymore.

But even in 2016, there are lots of jobs in the U.S. where women are almost nonexistent. Some involve manual labor (stonemason, drywaller). Others were historically deemed dangerous (logger, miner, roofer). In these types of jobs, women make up only 0.1 to 5.4 percent of the workforce [source: United States Department of Labor]. And then there are others which at first glance seem to be an all-boys club for no apparent reason (We'll look at some of those in our article).


To be fair, many male-dominated occupations are beginning to reach out to women. Still, who knows how long it will be before you won't give a second thought to seeing a woman pounding nails on a roof, or walking along a steel beam?

Let's look at 10 occupations where the glass ceiling has barely (or not even) been cracked. The ones we talk about on our list have female jobholder rates of less than 10 percent. Some of them may surprise you.

10: Mechanical Engineer

female engineer, Germany
At a Mercedes-AMG engine production factory in Germany, a female engineer builds a M157 5.5L V8 biturbo engine.
Tim Graham/Getty Images

Much talk about gender inequity in jobs centers around increasing the number of women in the STEM field: science, technology, engineering and math. And the engineering specialty that's most-lopsided for gender balance is mechanical engineering. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2015 there were 323,000 mechanical engineers in the U.S., yet only 8.3 percent of those were women, a slight drop from 2014.

Mechanical engineers design, manufacture and test machines and other mechanical and thermal devices. While it's tempting to dismiss the disparity by saying women typically don't like this kind of work, or aren't good at it, that's not true. In China, a third of mechanical engineers are women [source: Sorrentino].


Experts say American culture is likely at fault — girls aren't encouraged to study STEM subjects as much as boys are. They're often told they're not as good at math as boys, or that they might find a career like engineering too difficult. In addition, some say, the profession as a whole doesn't do a good job of explaining the importance of engineering to everyday life — whether it's designing prosthetic hands or making fire-resistant pajamas. "[Engineers] do an especially poor job reaching out to girls and women to say: The field wants you. It needs you. It's filled with opportunity," wrote Gary Robbins in The San Diego Union-Tribune.

9: Commercial Airline Pilot

Sophie Blanchard, a French national and mother of two, was the first woman to be a captain for Abu Dhabi's Etihad Airways, in 2010.

When was the last time you peered into the cockpit as you boarded a plane and saw a woman pilot? Never? That wouldn't be surprising. While the number of female pilots grew from 1960 to 1980, the upward trend came to an abrupt halt after that year. There were 9,966 women pilots in 1960 (including students), 52,902 in 1980 and just 36,808 in 2010. As of 2015, there were 140,000 Americans employed as pilots or flight engineers, 9.4 percent of whom were women. And if you drill down and look solely at commercial airline pilots, the figure plunges to just 5.1 percent [sources: BLS, Carsenat and Rossini, Goyer].

No one can say for sure why the number of female pilots remains so low or why prior progress halted. Some say it's due to the high cost of aviation lessons and planes, although that cost applies to both males and females equally. Others assert it has to do with society telling women that piloting is an occupation for men only. Another possibility is the flight-training environment which is aimed at young, mechanically inclined men [source: Goyer].


So, what about that boom in female pilots back in the 1960s, 70s and 80s? During that period, women were encouraged by society to try fields long dominated by men. But that message tapered off as the 1980s began. Further, while many occupations today are aggressively reaching out to women, aviation is not one of them. Perhaps all that's needed to change those numbers is a welcome mat [source: Goyer].

8: Orthopedic Surgeon

Only 4.3 percent of America's board-certified orthopedic surgeons are women.
Hero Images/Getty Images

Of all the surgical specialties, orthopedic surgery is the "manliest." Only 4.3 percent of America's board-certified orthopedic surgeons are women. At one point in time, people blamed the disparity on a simple notion: Men are stronger than women, and therefore more adept at manipulating bones and joints into place. But with today's high-tech medical equipment, physicians aren't muscling body parts into place on the operating table as they once did [source: O'Connor].

So what's going on? A study looked at the perceptions of orthopedic surgeons among medical students. It reported female medical students as saying that the main reason they did not choose an orthopedic residency was because of its "jock/frat culture." The next biggest reason was a lack of female role models, which is much more crucial to women than men. Finally, female residents in orthopedic surgery were much more likely than men to report feeling unaccepted by senior faculty [source: O'Connor].


But there's hope. A handful of groups have formed to offer outreach to young women in high school and college, encouraging them to consider the field, as well as support and networking opportunities for female orthopedic surgeons and those in training[source: O'Connor].

7: S&P 500 CEO

General Motors CEO Mary Barra reveals the new GM 2016 Chevrolet Cruze at The Filmore Detroit on June 24, 2015.
Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

In recent years, there have been a fair number of women making it big in corporate America. Mary Barra is CEO of General Motors, the first woman in history to take the reins of a major automaker. Marillyn Hewson is CEO of Lockheed Martin. And Carly Fiorina served as CEO of Hewlett-Packard before she ran for U.S. president. Yet things aren't actually quite as rosy as they may seem.

If you look at the companies in the S&P 500, as of February 2016 only 4 percent (20 companies) were led by women. (The S&P 500 targets the 500 biggest publicly traded companies, as reported by Standard & Poor's.) That wouldn't necessarily be so dire, experts say, if there were plenty of experienced women at these corporations in line to become CEOs in the near future. But there aren't — only 14 percent of senior positions (like chief financial officer) are held by women [sources: Egan, Catalyst].


Female executives often lack the support of high-ranking mentors and sponsors who can help shepherd them into the very top office. In addition, corporate America tends to cull its CEOs from those with profit-and-loss experience, but far more men than women have those jobs. Finally, taking a break to have kids, or being the main child-minder in your home, often has a detrimental effect on corporate careers. Ironically, studies show it's the companies with women sprinkled throughout their executive tiers that perform the best financially [source: Egan].

6: Pest Control

Although it is rare to see a woman working in pest control in the U.S., it's more common in developing countries. Here, a South African woman sprays insecticide over cabbage seedlings.
Emil von Maltitz/Getty Images

Sure, a lot of women and girls are squeamish about bugs. But that's not the reason why the pest control industry is dominated by men. According to the BLS, in 2014 a mere 3.7 percent of the nation's 80,000 pest control workers were men, making it one of America's top male-dominated careers.

Experts can't point a finger at one particular reason for the gender disparity in pest control. It might be because the job can be physical; workers often tote backpack sprayers that can weigh 30 pounds (13 kilograms) or so, and move furniture to check for insects or rodents [source: Ruelas]. Some women worry about exposure to chemicals during their child-bearing years. And while groups like Professional Women in Pest Management exist to encourage and support women in this career, many companies aren't actively wooing women. But they should be.


A large part of the job of an exterminator is to soothe distressed homeowners, and women are known for their empathic qualities. The job typically is quite flexible, too, a plus for women with kids. And it's not difficult to work around issues like heavy sprayers, for example. The sprayers can be put in carts rather than toted on the back, or partially filled to lighten the load, then refilled as needed [source: Ruelas].

5: Commercial Farmer

Sixty percent of the female farmers in the U.S. make less than $5,000 in annual sales. Only 3 percent of commercial farms are led by women.
Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

Women have been growing and selling food since the beginning of time. That's still true today. Yet female farmers overwhelmingly work at small and mid-sized farms. According to the 2012 Agricultural Census, a mere 3.3 percent of America's total agricultural sales came from women. That meager acreage may be one reason why about 60 percent of the female farmers counted in the census sold fewer than $5,000 in agricultural products [sources: Rosenberg, USDA].

With these statistics in mind, it's not surprising that when you look at America's commercial farms – defined as those with gross cash farm income of at least $10,000 annually — more than 97 percent are led by men, with less than 3 percent steered by women [sources: Rosenberg, Hoppe].


Why aren't there more women involved in larger-scale farming? No one knows for sure. But U.S. farm policy makes it difficult for anyone to make a living by farming unless they're running a large operation. And with women clustering around smaller agricultural operations, it doesn't look hopeful that the number of female farmers — whether commercial or noncommercial — will rise in the near future. The latest statistics bear this out. The 2012 Agricultural Census shows that since 2007, the number of women who were in charge of farms decreased 6 percent [sources: Rosenberg, USDA].

4: Construction Worker

Construction workers, including three females in the front, await the arrival of Queen Elizabeth II for a visit to the Crossrail station site at Bond Street, London, in 2016. Women make up just 3 percent of U.S. construction workers.
Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images

Thirty years ago, about 3 percent of construction workers were female. In 2016, the figure is essentially the same: 2.6 percent. Even more dismal, female construction workers report widespread harassment. A report by the U.S. Department of Labor showed an astonishing 88 percent of female construction workers experienced sexual harassment on the job, compared with 25 percent of women in the workplace overall [sources: National Women's Law Center, United States Department of Labor].

With women generally clustered in lower-paying jobs, the federal government is working to steer them into higher-paying occupations such as construction. But there are many obstacles in their way. Girls and women are often told — both outright and subtly — that they can't succeed in the field. Those who pursue construction jobs anyway are often hazed. "On the construction site, men don't see you as a plumber or as an electrician — they only see you as a woman who shouldn't be there. They give you a hard time to press you to quit. Women are groped, grabbed, and relentlessly harassed ... It'll never change without having more women on the work site," female welder Shané LaSaint-Bell told The National Women's Law Center.


Construction jobs often require the completion of an apprenticeship program. But information about these programs is rather secretive — men tend to hear about openings from male friends and relatives. It will take a concerted effort from the government and the construction trade, to open the door to more women [sources: National Women's Law Center, United States Department of Labor].

3: Automotive Mechanic

A woman mechanic fixes a car exhaust pipe at an innovative garage and auto repair workshop catering exclusively to female customers in Paris, 2014. Customers can get a massage or manicure while they wait.

In the 1992 movie "My Cousin Vinny," Vinny's fiancée, Mona Lisa (Marisa Tomei), helps him win his first murder trial because she knows how to fix cars. While the movie was a hit, Tomei's character apparently didn't inspire women to investigate a career as a mechanic. Far from it. As of 2015, out of the 924,000 automotive service technicians and mechanics in the U.S., a scant 1.5 percent were female [source: BLS].

But this is a job in demand. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts there will be a 17 percent increase in demand for mechanics from 2010 to 2020, and auto dealers around the U.S. are already finding it hard to find and keep qualified technicians. Kids simply don't grow up fiddling under the car hood as much as they used to, plus a lot of secondary schools no longer offer auto repair programs, once a main source of job recruitment [source: Woodyard].


But there's more to it than that when it comes to female mechanics. Patrice Banks, an engineer who traded in her business suit for a pair of coveralls, told the Christian Science Monitor that when she spoke to an all-male high school automotive class, the kids couldn't quite believe she was a mechanic, asking to see her hands, then telling her she'd be a distraction in the workplace. With those kinds of attitudes, it's small wonder there are so few female auto mechanics. Banks opened a car clinic to teach women about their vehicles and hopes to open an all-female auto shop one day.

2: Tool and Die Maker

This unnamed young woman is believed to be the first female tool and die maker in Canada in 1941.
Toronto Star Archives/Toronto Star via Getty Images

One of the top male-dominated jobs in the U.S. is that of tool-and-die maker. Tool-and-die makers work in manufacturing, analyzing specifications, setting up and operating machine tools, and fitting and assembling parts to make and repair dies, jigs, gauges and other tools. The job typically pays about $50,000 per year. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are about 56,000 tool-and-die makers in America. A scant 0.8 percent of them are female [sources: Catalyst].

It's hard to say for certain why so few women are attracted to this job. Some experts note manufacturing has a negative reputation as a dirty, noisy environment, which turns off women. Plus a 2014 survey conducted by The Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte found only 35 percent of Americans would encourage their kids to check out manufacturing jobs, despite the decent pay and upgraded workplaces.


Others note far fewer girls grow up taking apart machines and doing other mechanical things, which gives them less confidence in these kinds of fields. And as with many of the jobs on this list, it's always intimidating to enter a field dominated by members of the opposite sex, where there's not always a sense of community, and sometimes the threat of hostility [sources: Barrett].

1: President of the United States

Former Democratic nominee for president Hillary Clinton came close to ending the all-male fraternity of U.S. presidents.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

India had Indira Gandhi. Israel had Golda Meir. The United Kingdom has Theresa May. And Germany has Angela Merkel. Yet in the U.S., no woman has ever held the highest elected office in the land: president. Not only that, but just one woman has even been selected to represent her party on the final ballot — Hillary Clinton in 2016. Despite winning 2.9 million more popular votes in the 2016 presidential election, Clinton still lost the electoral votes to Donald Trump, keeping that elusive glass ceiling still intact.

It's so tough to break, in fact, that very few women have ever tried to run for president since the country was born (a total of just 10 between 1872 and 2016), though more have tried in the last few decades, including Hillary Clinton, Carly Fiorina, Carol Mosley Braun, Elizabeth Dole and Michelle Bachman, who all ran in the 21st century [source: Center for American Women and Politics].

Most Americans (73 percent) actually believe there will be a female president during their lifetime, according to a 2015 Pew Research poll. It might be a good thing for the nation. Research shows that when women are at the helm of countries that are ethnically diverse, there's a 6.8 percent increase in GDP (gross domestic product) compared to when men are in power. The reason, researchers say, is that female leaders are more inclusive of others and cooperative.

Nevertheless, a separate 2015 Pew Research survey found that nearly 40 percent of Americans believed the reason there hadn't been a female president yet is because women are held to higher standards than men and that voters simply aren't ready to elect a female leader [sources: Kent, Hill].

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Author's Note: 10 Fields Where the Glass Ceiling Isn't Even Cracked

I'll never forget the day I took my younger daughter into the pediatrician. It was the mid-1990s, and she was about 5. The doctor asked if she thought she might want to be a doctor one day, and she replied, "You mean a nurse. Boys become doctors and girls become nurses." Thankfully, he immediately corrected her and said girls could become doctors, too. But it was certainly an eye-opener for me. At that point in time, there were plenty of female doctors in the U.S., and there was much chatter about the fact that girls could do whatever boys could, and vice versa. Where in the world did my daughter get the notion that only guys could become doctors?

Apparently it didn't matter that gender equality was much talked about. In practice, the vast majority of doctors — including ours — were male. Ditto with mechanics, dentists, garbage collectors and a whole host of other professions. I hope by the time I have granddaughters, they won't have any concept of gender being linked to jobs.

Related Articles

More Great Links

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