I recently had the opportunity to see a particular band with a pretty big cult following at a local music club. Though I had heard a lot about this band from others who have seen them at one of their many semi-annual visits to the area, this was the first time I had seen them. As I watched them set up on stage, I was immediately struck by the following detail: they had a female drummer.
I found myself fascinated by this and rather fixated on her throughout the show. As the band began to play, it was immediately apparent that this girl was good. I mean REALLY good. She rocked on those drums like, well….like a rock star. I jokingly thought to myself, “I want to be as cool as her when I grow up!” and found myself wanting to say, “Wow! She is REALLY good for a female drummer!” But then I stopped that thought in its tracks and corrected myself. She wasn’t just good “for a girl,” she was really good. Period. She could hold her own next to any number of drummers I’ve seen. Her gender truly had nothing to do with it.
This got me thinking about gender stereotypes as related to career choices. The reason that this girl was so notable is because in reality, it’s not common to find female rock drummers. But she powered right through that stereotype, hence evoking that thought that I wanted to be as cool as her. Not only was she breaking a stereotype, she was doing it well and not looking back.
“Rock Drummer” is certainly not the only profession that tends to be male dominated. I recently returned from the HR Technology Conference, which this year kicked off with a “Women in HR Technology” summit that focused on that very topic of pushing through stereotypes and promoting and developing more women into traditionally male dominated professions; in this case, roles in technology or leadership roles in technology companies. The encouraging thing there was, other than discussions about how to get more young girls interested in tech roles at a much younger age, little of what was discussed was truly focused on women in a gender stereotype sort of way. There was some talk about tendencies women have versus their male counterparts as a generalization (i.e. not applying for roles for which they are not 100% qualified), but much of the advice given was relevant to both sexes. It just happened to be in the context of a traditionally male dominated field, and the majority of the attendees happened to be female.
But even after attending that summit, and working in HR where I know that there is a lack of women in key roles in certain professions, I still found myself out of habit wanting to say “pretty good for a girl” about this drummer. And I still take note when I fly and have a “female pilot.” This observation is never in any sort of positive or negative way, it’s just an observation that it is still not as common to see female pilots as it is to see male pilots. So while we are making strides, there’s still a ways to go. And this goes for both sides of the equation. How many people do you know who out of habit may still use the term “male nurse”?
Until it’s habitual to just say “drummer” or “pilot” or “nurse” we still have gender stereotypes to overcome. But kudos to those that pay no attention to them and break right through….both women and men!
About the Author: Jennifer Payne, SPHR, SHRM-SCP has almost two decades of HR experience in employee relations, talent acquisition, learning & development, and employee communications, and currently works in talent management in the retail grocery industry. She is one of the co-founders of Women of HR, and is currently the Editor of the site. You can connect with her on Twitter as @JennyJensHR and on LinkedIn.