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Sunday
Aug072016

The Influence of Gender on Parental Expectations of Your Career

 

Please excuse the academic-sounding title of this post!

Just the other day I received an email from a concerned mom who was worried that her son, recently graduated from an excellent university, was floundering in his job/career search. She wanted to talk with me about the possibility of working with her son to “put him on the right path.”

I get emails and phone calls like this several times (or more) a month, and what strikes me is that the parents who contact me (yes, dads reach out to me too, but more so moms) is that the overwhelming majority are requesting assistance for their SONS. At least ten times more frequently than requests to help their daughters. 

I can’t help but wonder why this is so, and have come up with several hypotheses:

1.  As a man I am a relatively rare bird in the career consulting field. The vast majority of career coaches are women; perhaps parents feel that a man will have a better chance of helping their sons than will a woman (although out of hundreds of contacts I have only heard this rationale used once by a parent). In fact I do believe that young men can relate more comfortably with another man around issues of "success," which despite tremendous societal changes is still an issue that appears somewhat more salient to men than to women.

2.  It may be that the changes in career possibilities and expectations for women and men (mainly the expansion of possibilities for women) have led to diminished confidence on the part of young males as it relates to work. Popular culture (TV, movies, books, and of course social media) features women pushing the boundaries of what was previously "acceptable" for them as workers and in career choice. As young men see more competition from capable women, might that lead to greater insecurity?

3.  The parents who contact me, all of whom are Baby Boomers, might be stuck a bit in the past, expecting their sons to be the primary breadwinners and therefore feeling that they need to get an early and confident start out of the gate. Of course they want their daughters to also have good careers, but to many Baby Boomer parents the possibility of marrying into success seems larger for their daughters than for their sons. This is particularly true of parents who contact me who are immigrants from traditionally male-dominated cultures in Asia (South and East, not to mention the Middle East). There is surprisingly little information on this subject online, and it apparently has not been researched to any significant degree. I am curious to hear from my readers any other ideas they may have to explain this phenomenon. It seems to me that uneven career success expectations based on gender are not only unfair but also seem to be having a depressing effect on quite a few of the young men with whom I work, an effect I work hard to counter.

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