Excluded both as man and minority

Exclusion during the student days may result in lower ambitions when entering the job market. In bioengineering, male students with minority background are struggling the most.
According to researcher Julia Orupabo, ethnicity may be decisive for students understanding of competence and whom they perceive as competent. (Illustration photo: iStockphoto)

“I’m interested in how gender and ethnicity affect our choice of education, how it affects our identification with the profession ideal, and to what extent this has any influence on our job opportunities after completed education,” says Julia Orupabo.

Gendered job marked

She is a researcher at Institute for Social Research, and has recently published the book ‘Women’s jobs, men’s jobs, and immigrants’ jobs’ (Kvinnejobber, mannsjobber og innvandrerjobber). Her book is based on her PhD thesis from 2014.

Orupabo has interviewed thirty-six people working within nursing, computer technology, and bioengineering, both during their student days and after their first encounter with the job market.  

Nursing and computer technology are both typically gendered occupations, and therefore they’ve been subject to much research. All subjects are popular choices of study among students with minority background. In bioengineering, half of the students come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

In bioengineering, half of the students come from ethnic minority backgrounds.

“Bioengineering differed from the other two disciplines in several ways. The students of bioengineering did not relate to gender or to what it means to study a discipline dominated by women. But they were surprised to see so many female students in their classes. They had imagined more men, since you obtain the title ‘engineer’ after completed education.”

The finding that surprised Orupabo the most was also among the students of bioengineering. According to her, ethnicity played an important role for the students’ perception of competence, who they perceived as competent, and with whom they socialised.

Minorities fell through

In this discipline, men with minority background fell through completely. According to Orupabo, this may be connected to the fact that the competence ideal among the students of bioengineering was closely related to language and ‘Norwegianness’.

“The female respondents from bioengineering emphasised the ability to collaborate with other colleagues in an intelligible manner, which was connected to ‘Norwegianness’. They also emphasised mutual trust, which was connected to work ethics. Their experience was that male students with ethnic minority background did not meet their required standards because they lacked faith in women.  

Julia Orupabo has studied the significance of gender and ethnicity in various educations. (Photo: Institute for Social Research)

“Somalia and so on. I feel that they … They’re very nice to us, but that they have a different view on women. I don’t like that people look over my shoulder and check everything I do. Because I’ve double checked everything already.” (Female participant).

Orupabo emphasises that the male minority students of bioengineering experienced double exclusion.

“Many of them began their studies because they couldn’t get a job in Norway with the education they had from their home country. They chose bioengineering because they imagined it would be easier to succeed as an immigrant in an occupation within the health sector,” she says.

“But during their student days, these men experienced exclusion from academic collaboration by their fellow students. This made them pessimistic and they lost faith in their own intrinsic value and in their opportunities for finding work after completed education.” 

During their student days, these men experienced exclusion from academic collaboration by their fellow students

Unattractive jobs

Either her male respondents find themselves in a job that is irrelevant for their education, or they have jobs that are considered unattractive, such as sampling. 

“Among the respondents in my study, sampling was regarded as the least attractive job. The ideal job was test analysis in the laboratory.”

Imagine just sitting there and look at patients being drained all day. My God, I could never do that. So yes, we do think of this job as the bottom of the hierarchy.” (Female respondent).

According to Orupabo, the cultural perception of competence, gender, and ethnicity during the student days affect your opportunities later in life.  

“The fact that untraditional students may feel excluded is not the only problem,” says Orupabo.

“These experiences also affected how they perceived their own competence. It was common among the students who experienced exclusion during the student days that they lowered their own ambitions when entering the job market.”

See also: Easier for men to become top researchers

Masculine values

Completely different things came into play within nursing. Although nursing is a typical women’s occupation, Orupabo found that this did not have excluding effects on the male students in the discipline. In fact, the effects were quite the opposite.

“The female students also wanted to distance themselves from what they understood as the classical ideal nurse – a caring mother figure with soft values. They characterised themselves as tough tomboys ‘who had never touched a washcloth’,” she says.

“Both the male and female student nurses ranged the ‘hard’ nursing disciplines such as anaesthesia and intensive care nursing at the top of the hierarchy. These are disciplines associated with advanced medical and technical equipment and a competence and career associated with men and masculinity.”

The female students characterised themselves as tough tomboys ‘who had never touched a washcloth’

According to Orupabo, the competence ideals among the nurses should be considered in connection to migration and an increasingly heterogeneous ethnic population.  

“The newly graduated nurses in my study did not want to work in nursing homes, among other things because there are so many people with immigrant background working in geriatric care. They considered it a risk to work with nurses from all over the world,” she says.

“The connection between minorities and low qualifications primarily has to do with language skills. But the connection between nursing homes and nurses with minority background indirectly contributes to a perception of minority nurses as a group of people who are working in nursing homes because they’re not competent enough to work in hospitals.” 

See also: Gender equality creates new school boys

Manly ideal in tech jobs

In computer technology, on the other hand, the competence ideal excluded the female students. 

“In computer technology studies, masculinity was closely associated with what the students considered the discipline’s core competence,” says Orupabo.

“Even though some of the men in my study weren’t computer technology experts, the cultural understanding of competence gave them a sense of confidence and naturalness in the discipline. This ideal had a restrictive effect on the female students. Where men expected to get high status jobs, women believed that they would have to start at the bottom of the career ladder when entering the job market.”

Ethnicity was not an excluding factor for the men with minority background, however.

“They identified themselves strongly with the competence ideal and felt that their opportunities on the job marked were good. The minority women felt the opposite, however. One of the students imagined that she would lose in the competition against both men and Norwegians, and consequently removed her hijab and started further education,” says Orupabo.

“Today she’s working as a computer programmer, but she doesn’t know why she got the job – whether it was the further education or the fact that she removed her hijab.”

“She doesn’t know why she got the job – whether it was the further education or the fact that she removed her hijab.”

Ethnicity affects gender differences

According to Julia Orupabo, her research differs from other research on the field because it includes an ethnic dimension.  

“We know a good deal about how competence may be connected to men and women’s assumed skills in gender segregated professions. We know less about how ethnicity may be an additional factor. My study demonstrates that ethnicity may both strengthen and balance the significance of gender.”

“Are there any missing perspectives in your study that you would have wanted to include?”

“I didn’t interview any employers, which could have shed further light on which factors are operative when the students enter the job market,” says Orupabo.

“It would also have been interesting to observe the students while they were in practical training during their student days, and look at the factors at play then. Particularly because many student nurses and bioengineering students get their future job through their practical training, but this didn’t happen to any of my respondents with ethic minority background.”

Read more: Safeguarding against complex discrimination


Translated by Cathinka Dahl Hambro

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