Construction, ranching, pro sports refs: Women in non-traditional jobs

From  Tribune News Service

The idea that girls and women can be anything they want to be is a relatively modern one. For decades, sometimes centuries, certain careers and even getting an education were opportunities only afforded to men. Over the past decades, many trailblazing women have changed the face of the American workforce. In 2017, women made up more than 56 percent of students on college campuses around the country, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

Changing the game

Women have infiltrated traditionally "masculine" fields from welder to police officer to pro athlete. But certain fields are still considered "non-traditional careers for women" because they make up 25 percent or less of total employment. While there roadblocks to women entering these fields, such as lack of access to role models, fair treatment and sexism, these "non-traditional jobs" often pay 20 to 30 percent more than traditionally undervalued female jobs. This along with passion for the work and new challenges are reasons why certain inspiring women have flocked to these non-traditional jobs.

NBA coach

Though women play and coach many of the same professional sports as man do, such as soccer, basketball and golf, many women only coach other women. Becky Hammon changed that when she became the first full-time assistant coach in the NBA for the San Antonio Spurs. A retired professional basketball player herself, she also became the first woman to interview to be an NBA head coach with the Milwaukee Bucks. Other women have followed in her footsteps, including Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Jenny Boucek.

Military general

Compared to other professions, the military welcomed women sooner than most. The first woman enlisted in the military in 1917, and by 1948, the Women's Armed Services Integration Act was passed to permanently allow women to serve in all branches of the military. Today, women make up 16 percent of the enlisted forces. In 1970, Anna Mae Hays became the first woman in the U.S. Armed Forces to be promoted to a General Officer rank, opening the door for many future female generals and admirals. In 2016, Air Force Gen. Lori Robinson became the highest ranking woman in U.S. military history when she took over as leader of U.S. Northern Command.

Farmer and rancher

Women have worked in these roles since the pioneer days, alongside men or running the show themselves. For example, Texan Margaret Borland outlived three husbands and single-handedly owned and managed a large cattle ranch in the 1800s. She was likely the only woman to run her own cattle drive from Texas to Kansas and did so with three young children in tow. Today, as the older generation of farmers and ranchers are aging out, more women are stepping into those roles, bringing a new focus on innovation and sustainability.

Truck driver

Only 6.6 percent of truck drivers are women. While the long hours discourage some women from joining the field, being a truck driver offers many opportunities, including pay and freedom to work your way. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, truck drivers earn a mean salary of $44,500, with some private fleets offering up to $86,000 salaries, and 90 percent of truckload fleets offer their drivers paid leave. In recent years, the Women in Trucking Association has encouraged more women to get in the field, even partnering with the Girl Scouts to introduce a Transportation Patch.


More than 50 American men had traveled to space before Sally Ride became the first American woman in orbit. In June 1983, the NASA astronaut launched on the STS-7 mission of the space shuttle at age 32, becoming the youngest American astronaut to travel to space. She was also the first known LGBT astronaut. Since then, there have been multiple female Space Shuttle commanders and pilots and International Space Station commanders. And in 2016, NASA's class of astronauts was 50 percent women for the first time in history.


In 1881, Louise Blanchard Bethune became the first American female professional architect when she and her husband opened their firm in western New York. In 1888, she also became the first woman admitted into the American Institute of Architects. The field is still considered nontraditional for women as only 15.9 percent of architect and engineering occupations are done by women, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Other related fields like civil and construction engineering and surveying and mapping are even more male-dominated.

Blue Angel pilot

In July 2014, Marine Corps Capt. Katie Higgins, 27, became the first female pilot in the Blue Angels, the famous flying aerobatic squadron. Only 9 percent of all American aircraft pilots are women, even the ones not doing backflips and nose-dives for 11 million spectators a year. In the rest of the world, about 5 percent of airline pilots worldwide are women, but India leads the pack with 13 percent of pilots being women, according to the International Society of Women Airline Pilots. The country's booming aviation sector means more women are encouraged to take to the skies.

NFL referee

Much like in coaching sports, female referees often weren't given the chance to officiate male-dominated sports or events. This is changing behind the trailblazing efforts of football official Sarah Thomas. She was the first woman to officiate a major college football game, the first to officiate a bowl game, and the first full-time female NFL official. In 2019, Thomas also became the first female NFL official to work a postseason game, serving as down judge during the Patriots-Chargers playoff game.


Jobs in which you work outdoors, are physically active and work with your hands have traditionally been considered the domain of men, but they hold a lot of appeal for women as well. Women hold just 4 percent of trade jobs in the U.S., and only 3.5 percent of plumbers are women. In 1951, Lillian Ann Baumbach of Arlington, Va., became the first American woman to earn a Master Plumbers license. In 2017, master plumber Erin Swetland explained to New York Magazine that she decided to learn the craft after calling a plumber to fix her bathroom. "I thought: This guy’s job’s awesome. He gets to use his hands, talk to people, solve complex problems, he has a license to be nosy, and it even seemed kinda creative."


The kitchen has long stereotypically been considered the domain of women, and yet even today, only 22 percent of professional chefs and head cooks are women. This proves the disheartening trend that men rise to the top of women-dominated industries once they become well-paying and respectable. Despite the rampant sexism in kitchen culture, women have left their mark on the industry and continue to blaze new trails. In 1992, Alice Waters became the first woman to win the James Beard Award for Outstanding Chef. In 2005, Filipina immigrant Cristeta Comerford became the first female White House Executive Chef, and in 2018, French chef Dominique Crenn became the first woman in the United States to earn three Michelin stars for her restaurant Atelier Crenn.

Computer programmer

Six women actually developed the field of computer programming and software engineering during World War II when they worked on the first electronic computer, the ENIAC. Programming was often conflated with low-level clerical work, and so it remained the undervalued, underpaid realm of women until the 1970s, when the work became considered prestigious, highly skilled labor and women were pushed out by men. Now, computer programming and coding are more in-demand than ever and yet only 21.2 percent of programmers are women.

Police officer

About 23 percent of all protective service occupations are held my women, making up just 5 percent of firefighters and 15 percent of police patrol and federal law enforcement officers. The first known woman to enter the police force was Marie Owens, who joined the Chicago Police department in 1891. Other women across the country joined law enforcement, becoming detective and even homicide detectives in the early 1900s. However it wasn't until 1985 that Penny Harrington became the first female police chief of a major police department, in Portland, Oregon. More and more pundits have urged local and federal departments to increase their diversity because when law enforcement doesn't reflect the population it serves, it loses the trust of the people.


In 1849, Elizabeth Blackwell Elizabeth became the first woman to receive a medical degree in the United States. Her graduation from Hobart College was dubbed in the press "a key event in the struggle for the emancipation of women in nineteenth century America." While becoming a physician is no longer considered a "nontraditional job," women in medicine still face systematic disadvantages such as being paid less, kept out of leadership and faculty positions and encouraged to pursue "feminine" specialties like pediatrics instead of surgery. Many women's firsts in the field are only happening in recent history. For example, in 1985, Margaret Allen became first female heart transplant surgeon, and in 1990, Dr. Antonia Novello became the first female surgeon general of the United States.


Butchers and other meat processing jobs are still traditionally held by men. Women account for 28.3 percent of the field. Carrying large pieces of meat and breaking down animal carcasses can be intense work, but many women who enter the field enjoy feeling physically tired after a good day's work. London-based butcher Jessica Wragg told Vice that she thinks women can be even better butchers than men because of the care and artistry they bring to it. "The standard of the women I know in the industry is incredible," she said. "I think women are better because they are more approachable, they take their time, and they take care with what they do. They have a finer hand and their finished product looks better."


About 15 percent of professional clergy across faiths and denominations are women. Although Methodism founder John Wesley licensed Sarah Crosby to preach in 1761, and Christian denominations such as the Unitarian Universalist Church and the American Baptist Church have been ordaining women since the late 1800s, female clergy have only been officially recognized by others starting in the 20th century. According to the report State of Clergywomen in the U.S., “Fifty years ago there were virtually no women leading congregations as pastors in America except in a few Pentecostal and a handful of mainline churches." In 1972, Sally Priesand became the first female rabbi ordained in the U.S. In 1981, Pema Chodron became the first American woman to become a fully ordained Buddhist nun. Women still cannot be ordained in the Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention, the two largest U.S. religious groups.


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