With the rise of feminism, more and more women have gotten the opportunity to go out and become active in the workforce. In fact, females are the dominant gender in many occupations today, including teaching and social work. But can women really go out and excel in a workplace dominated by men? Definitely. Countless first-hand accounts and even science can back it up.
The classic example of a male-dominated industry is tech. Statistics show that while women make up 59% of the total labor force in the US, only 30% of employees in the world’s 11 biggest tech companies are women. But nothing could hold back Kim Malone Scott. Her novel, Virtual Love, is based on her own life story, and the main character, Virginia, is a sales director at Google, just as Scott was herself. The novel describes how Scott open-mindedly tried out a new automation system to cut down the time needed for approving applications to use AdSense (Google’s program that lets people to put ads on their own websites for money,) resulting in a huge increase in sales.
On top of all the profit, Scott’s personality also brought harmony to her department. She came up with a weekly activity in which her team could share funny “screw-up-stories” with their fellow co-workers, letting everyone bond and learn more about each other. During this activity, Scott never hesitated to tell her own stories either, despite her being everyone’s “boss.” She showed warmth to not just her whole team but to individuals too: whether it be a single mother just about to give birth or a young Googler addicted to virtual games, she would always reach out to them and make sure their lives outside of work were going alright, too. Scott’s compassion was key to keeping the team together and the workers happy at work, and everyone loved her as a result.
But tech isn’t the only male-dominated field out there. Going back a few centuries, the California Gold Rush drew millions of men who dreamed of striking it rich to the west coast. And even though the 1850 census shows there were eleven men for every woman in California at the peak of the Gold Rush, nothing could stop women from thriving. In fact, a whole book, They Saw the Elephant by JoAnn Levy, focuses on women in the Gold Rush, documenting their achievements and struggles.
Many women were surprised that they could make a profit by simply doing things that men did not want to do (or were not skilled at): cooking, for instance. Some men would go as far as to offer ten dollars for a piece of bread made by a woman! As a result, many women made a living by cooking meals or pies for men. Interestingly, cooking didn’t require much more than a kitchen and some common sense, and yet women who cooked would often earn more than the average man did from mining. Other women ran boardinghouses, and did not only the cooking but also bed making, washing, and ironing for the miners who stayed over, and though this was tougher work than just cooking, many of these boardinghouses had great business, the rooms constantly filled to capacity.
Satoshi Kanazawa, an evolutionary psychologist studying how human behavior and cognition can be explained as a result of natural selection, thinks his theories can reveal the secret to why women can be so successful in male-dominated fields like tech and the Gold Rush. To begin with, Kanazawa introduces two types of brains: the “type S brain” (also known as the male brain) and the “type E brain” (also known as the female brain.) The “S” in type S brain stands for “systemizing,” which means people with this type of brain are good at logical thinking and systematic problem solving. However, Kanazawa goes on to say that people with extreme type S brains may be a bit lacking in social skills, or the ability to be friendly and caring towards others. On the other hand, the “E” in type E brain stands for “empathizing,” so people with a type E brain are better able to stand in other people’s shoes and communicate effectively with their peers, but may be too emotional or lack rationality at times. Though not all men have type S brains and not all women have type S brains, the average man is more likely to have a type S brain than a type E brain, and vice versa for women.
Having a well-balanced brain made all the difference for Scott and women in the Gold Rush. In a workplace where the majority has type S brains, women have the chance to put their higher ability to empathize with others to good use, which is precisely what Scott did: she used her superb people skills to make sure the Googlers in her team all got along and that every single one of them got help and support when they needed it. People with type E brains are also known to be more open minded and creative. Scott is a perfect example of this when she eagerly tries out the new system to boost her team’s work speed, resulting in a great success. Women in the Gold Rush also showed creativity in their choice of jobs; they were more willing to go for entrepreneurial careers like boardinghouse managers, as opposed to men mostly focusing on mining.
Empathy and creativity are extremely rare and valuable traits to have in industries with such uneven gender balances like tech and the Gold Rush. Women’s type E brains, (and of course, their hard work,) has led them to shine in male-dominated fields, rather than being crushed or overwhelmed by men. Now that we know women can succeed anywhere, it’s time for them to actually start going out and joining the fields that desperately need them – and for these industries to start racing to hire brilliant women.