Significant shifts have occurred throughout various professional arenas over the past century. Barriers that once prevented minority groups and demographics from pursuing work traditionally held only by certain types of individuals have been questioned, challenged, and in some cases abolished as societal understandings and expectations have evolved over time. However, for some minority demographics, it can still be an uphill battle to both secure and thrive in certain jobs or vocations.
Women were barred from many types of employment for much of our modern era until the last century. Though much progress has been made towards allowing and encouraging the pursuit of various types of professional employment, there is still a long way to go. This is changing via several different means that are simultaneously contributing to a more inviting climate for women to pursue the jobs they are passionate about.
One such strategy for helping shift these realities and lessen remaining barriers is by promoting professional female role models.
Why are role models so important?
As it turns out, people are much more likely to believe something is possible when they have already seen it done. After centuries of internalising both implicit and explicit mainstream messages claiming that they weren’t as strong or capable as men or that they didn’t belong in the workplace, women continue to be far less likely than men to assume they can or should pursue historically male vocations.
That prevailing lack of possibility or permission dissuades most females from ever pursuing those career types. And because many careers require schooling that usually falls between adolescent years or early adulthood, there comes a point of no return after which most females feel that they can no longer pursue careers they might have been interested in.
However, seeing a female holding a professional role that might have once been considered off-limits can expose females (and especially young girls) to a different status quo and change their conceptions about what is possible.
A young female who has never before seen a female astronaut would often subconsciously assume that there aren’t any – and, further, that it probably isn’t possible. That little girl who then sees a female astronaut on TV is suddenly confronted with a different reality and is newly able to consider that trajectory for herself as well. When young women are given the chance to see and learn from female role models that hold positions they might be interested in pursuing one day, those young women can now aspire to new things.
Women breaking ground in technology
There has never been a period in history when women weren’t actively contributing to scientific or technological advancement. However, for most of history, women weren’t allowed to do so. Bright, intelligent, forward-thinking women that experimented, studied, invented, built, and adapted new works and ideas had to do such things in secret or under a man’s pseudonym.
In the present day, this obviously isn’t the case. But women are still fighting an uphill battle to gain equal recognition and opportunities in technological, scientific, and developmental circles. However, a small but celebrated number of female leaders and performers in these fields are slowly helping inspire change and encourage more young women to enter these arenas in their footsteps.
Women like Ada Lovelace, Grace Hopper, Susan Kare, and countless more developed founding principles and inventions that paved the way for much of today’s computing and informatics technology, and other female figures have done the same in other areas of study and research. From these historical giants all the way through today’s female researchers, coders, inventors, and other technological leaders, female influences in technology are becoming more visible.
Women reaching new heights in the boardroom
The Fortune 500 list annually publishes a CEO demographic breakdown of the leaders represented amongst its member companies. In 2023, for the first time in history, female CEOs amounted to over 10% of the total. Surpassing the single-digit figures that women had represented previously was a notable shift in the prevalence of female leadership in the corporate world.
For young women who aspire to high-level executive seats or leadership within large companies, this is a huge encouragement and inspiration to push forward and seek leadership positions.
Women standing tall in law enforcement and military
Arguably some of the most traditionally male-dominated vocations in the world, seeking roles of consequence in law enforcement and in the military has been an incredibly tall order for women over the past decades. Though for the most part women are now technically allowed to pursue careers in these areas (which hasn’t always been the case), it is a difficult, time-consuming road for a woman to first get hired, then trusted and respected, as a team member or leader in these professions.
Despite these difficulties, women have slowly made their way into and up the ranks in every branch of the military and virtually every conceivable part of law enforcement including the police forces, the FBI and CIA, Homeland Security, and more.
Progress at making these jobs more accessible to women and allowing them to secure positions of leadership within law enforcement and military organizations has been slow. For example, though the first female police officers were hired in the early 1900’s in the US, it wasn’t until 1985 that the first woman became a police chief. However, as more women secure (and then perform in) these types of roles, this progress will quicken.
The future of women in professional settings
Though there is still plenty of distance to travel before women (and other minority groups) can confidently and capably access the same professional opportunities as men, the positive motion made in that direction over the past 50 years shows good signs of continuing and, with a little luck, will propel women to new professional heights in the years to come.
To continue this forward motion, it will take more role models and increased visibility of women in professional roles to inspire future generations of young women to meet and exceed those accomplishments.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.