Women in Psychology: Is it Still a Male-Dominated Field?

When girls are educated, their countries become stronger and more prosperous.

Michelle Obama.
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It is no secret that woman have never been portrayed as equal in society, let alone in the workplace. We have all heard conversation around the gender wage gap. Women haven’t persevered since the first gathering of women devoted to equal rights in 1848, only to be paid .81 cents for every dollar a man makes (uncontrolled study,) or .98 cents earned for every dollar that a man earns (controlled study.) To put that into a different kind of perspective, 25 percent of working women have reported receiving less compensation than a man doing the same exact job. For good measure, I’d like to add that 42 percent of women have said that they’ve experienced some form of discrimination in the workforce, while 20 percent of men said the same (payscale.com.) Are you still wondering why we might be angry?

Women remain underrepresented in high-salary jobs, even fifty plus years after the equal pay act was signed. Just like most professions, it took much determination for women to become prevalent in the world of psychology. The history of women pushing the boundaries and not accepting no for an answer is extensive, but I will start with a brief overview. In 1894, Margaret Floy Washburn was a pioneer in the field and became the very first American woman to receive a Ph.D. in psychology. At that time, such an accomplishment was generally unheard of, and another forty years would pass before Black women were allowed to earn a doctoral degree (Etaugh & Bridges, 2018.)

The obstacles that women faced in the field extend well into the twentieth century, but in the 1800’s and early 1900’s, it was challenging for females to even find universities that would accept them (Etaugh & Bridges, 2018.) An even more difficult task, was finding a way to actually establish credentials-if women were barely allowed to seek a higher education, how would they begin to locate an institution that would hire them?

 I’d also like to mention, that at the time, almost all of the psychological research being conducted was based upon the male brain and behavior. Claire Etaugh wrote, “In the early years of psychology, gender studies as such did not exist. Not only were there very few women psychologists, but also women’s experiences were not deemed important enough to study” (Etaugh, 2017; Etaugh & Bridges, 2018.) In fact, some of the most well-known developmental theories (think Sigmund Freud,) were introduced with studies based solely on the experience of boys and men.

Over the last several decades, the number of women studying psychology and entering the workforce in related fields has come to far outweigh the representation of their male counterparts, but the inequities that still exist are utterly abhorrent.

Rebecca Clay, writing for the American Psychological Association (APA,) points out in her article, Women Outnumber Men in Psychology, but Not in the Field’s Top Echelons, that according to the National Science Foundation (NSF,) recent female doctoral graduates, on average will automatically begin their careers with a $20,000.00 wage gap. Furthermore, the disparity has been growing rather than shrinking. Clay also mentions to her readers that, while women make up more of the professionals in psychology, it still takes them an average of one year longer to achieve tenure than it does men. Women are still marginalized in roles such as associate professors, full professors and institutional leaders (Clay, 2017.) “To address the disparity, the Committee on Women in Psychology recommends in their report that APA work to raise awareness and advocate for equity, pushing policies that encourage salary transparency and monitoring progress” (Clay, 2017.) I think most of us can agree that the committee’s recommendation should remain true across the board, and not only in the world of psychology.

So, it seems as though women are dominating psychology as a workforce, but this fact can only be counted as true if we were simply to look at the number of females versus male people. Equity for women in psychology, as in many other fields, is basically nonexistent. Women are doing the same work and earning less money.

It is safe to say that gender inequality is a socially constructed concept. We learn from a very young age how to identify the genders and how we are supposed to behave based upon traditional cultural aspects. Traditionally, men are viewed as stronger, more dominant and competitive, while women are portrayed as emotional, supportive and domestic. Although society has become more open to nonconforming gender roles in many aspects of life, women are yet to be viewed as equal.

This is more than a small social injustice, it is an existing human rights issue and it cannot be ignored. I would like to believe that much of the inequity that women experience is due to the subconscious bias that we obtain through observation and learned behaviors, rather than purposeful degradation of female professionals, but that is too difficult to call. The only way to we will ever get to see gender equality, is to take gender out of the equation entirely.

Sources used in this article:

Etaugh, C. A., & Bridges, J. S. (2018). Women’s lives: A psychological exploration (4th ed.) Routledge.

American Psychological Association. (2014, December). Does the gender pay gap in psychology differ by work setting? APA. Retrieved October 5, 2020, from www.apa.org/monitor/2014/12/datapoint#:~:text=In%20the%20United%20States%2C%20men,varies%20by%20primary%20work%20setting.&text=The%20largest%20pay%20gap%20for,of%20%2439%2C648%20more%20than%20women.

Clay, R. A. (2017, July). Women outnumber men in psychology, but not in the field’s top echelons. APA.Retrieved October 5, 2020, from https://www.apa.org/monitor/2017/07-08/women-psychology

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