Occupational theme and sustainability worldview?

Posted on April 24, 2009


I’m wondering today if there is a  link between occupational preferences and sustainability?    I was prompted there by an interesting report in the latest Communications of the ACM.   LeeAnne Coder and her colleagues report on a study of 500 graduates in Kansas.   They were interested in exploring the extent to which “the dearth of females in IT fields is part of a larger phenomenon of occupational segregation by gender”.

They used the General Occupational Themes (GOT, RIASEC) from Holland’s model of occupational preferences:

  • Realistic – physical, hands-on, tool-oriented, masculine
  • Investigative – scientific, technical, methodical
  • Artistic – writing, painting, singing, etc.
  • Social – nurturing, supporting, helping, healing
  • Enterprising – organizing, activating, motivating
  • Conventional – clerical, detail-oriented

IT is associated with the realistic and investigative preferences (this trait based model is described as ‘circumplex’ meaning these traits are factors in a relationship rather than a single ‘type)’.   These traits are closely associated with gender, here is Lippa’s representation of them:



 They found strong gender differences in the GOT, accounting for two thirds of the gender differences (they estimate that the true level of females in IT should be about 40% – not the current 26%). They suggest that

women do not view IT professions as artistic, enterprising or conventional so chose other occupations they feel better match their personality

They found that many aspects of IT jobs are wrongly perceived – for example the social aspects of acting as a translator between the end user and the code often goes unrecognised.   They suggest that

many IT jobs can be redesigned in ways that are more attractive to women by emphasising the artistic, social and conventional dimensions of the tasks they require

This is not earth shattering, several other researchers have used similar methods for similar conclusions.   Allison and Cossette, for example provide a literature review of factors affecting the recruitment of women into science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers.    It’s got me thinking though…

There are strong associations between gender and sustainability:  gender issues (female literacy rates etc) are often described as critical to sustainability.   There are also gender differences in worldviews regarding sustainability.   Sia Su, for example found significantly higher environmental concern among females in his study of 368 university students in the Philippines.  In a study of 755 Texas Latino students, Lopez et al found gender was a significant predictor of environmental concern (females having 1.5 times more on Dunlaps’ NEP).

This paper by Coder has highlighted for me an apparent relationships between gender, occupational preferences, and sustainability worldview.   Is it possible to simplify this and associate occupational preferences and sustainability?   I’ve spent the morning looking for evidence of this in the literature but drawn a blank.    As we work towards understanding the drivers involved in sustainable practice, this could be an important line of enquiry.