Why Forbes’ “12 Best Jobs For Women” Is Ridiculous

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Forbes recently published what it considered a list of the 12 best jobs for women. “Best,” of course, is subjective, but let’s just say we weren’t impressed with what Forbes seems to think it means when applied to women in the workplace.

The positions listed include actuary, event planner, and dental hygienist, and not one of the accompanying salaries reaches $100K (though a few come close). None of the jobs surpass a middle-management level, either. Certainly there's nothing here that a child aspires to be when she grows up.

To come up with this list, Forbes looked at data from CareerCast, a job-search website, which offers predictive numbers as to the projected hiring outlook for women in various fields. The article states that “criteria such as stress, physical demands, and the percentage of women working in the field” were used to determine the 12 jobs chosen.

Sure, all of that is fine. It’s realistic, and probably better, to assume that not everyone wants the sexiest-sounding or most aspirational jobs, or even that the highest-paying jobs are necessarily the best jobs. However, reading over these picks, it’s hard not to feel that the real criteria was that women entering these fields would not change existing statistics. The factors mentioned (besides “percentage of women already working in the field”) seem tricky, if not impossible, to quantify. Stress is mentioned, but the list then includes being an event planner, a job that is nothing but stress, and seems to be included on the list mainly because it’s a job female characters tend to have in movies about women (ditto “public relations manager,” an incredibly stressful occupation). The inclusion of dental hygienist is also suspect. The majority of dental hygienists hold only an associate’s degree, and it's a career largely devoid of upward mobility. Still, this field is experiencing significant growth across the board (not just in female hires), a trend that has much more to do with the American economy and education system than it does gender.

However, the angle of which jobs are best “for women” is offensive no matter what positions are listed. It’s not like there are “best jobs for men” listicles detailing which titles have the fewest women in positions of power and most opportunities for mansplaining logical fallacies while eating a sandwich. That listicle doesn’t exist, and not just because it would be offensive and inaccurate, but because men aren’t a marked category. The best jobs “for men” are just, you know, the best jobs.
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Forbes even seems to know that this is a weak premise. The article tries to cover that base by saying it’s “a celebration" of fields in which women already excel and can expect to find work in the future. Yay?

Even if one pretends that “for women” is a useful qualifier, these criteria are nonsense. A list ranking the best jobs for women might consider which fields offer day-care and maternity leave, as well as the best healthcare benefits related to child care and family planning. It might consider jobs in which the instances of sexual harassment complaints are lowest and/or have been dealt with most rigorously. Even more radically, such a list might include jobs or fields with a woeful lack of women, in which the influx of skilled female workers might provide a much-needed diversity and plurality of voices.

Instead, the only real identifiable criterion other than projected growth by 2022 is how many other women are already in these jobs. Women, counter perhaps to popular belief as indicated by this article, do not need to travel in packs like wolves. Being the only woman in the room (as we are in so many jobs) is something we want to change, and that isn’t something we’re afraid to do.

If the best things for women are also the things that happen to the most women, then what’s best for women would include being street-harassed and dying of heart disease. Categories of people end up in particular jobs for a wide variety of reasons, but it’s wildly inaccurate to assume that most people end up in a type of job because it’s the best job for all people like them. Far more often, women, as with people of color, end up in particular jobs because we’re shut out from other ones. Recommending we seek out positions that already employ people like us is not quite saying “stay in the kitchen (or administrative sector) where you belong,” but it’s not that far off.

This post was authored by Helena Fitzgerald.

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