Erica Cardenas

Breaking ground

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In 1881, Louise Blanchard Bethune became the first female professional architect. In 1903, Mignon Nicholson became the first woman veterinarian. Fast-forward to 1997 when New York’s legendary Plaza Hotel hired its first female “doorman” (doorperson?), and the NBA announced the hiring of their first female referees.

Women have been enjoying success in nontraditional occupations for years, thanks to inspiring and rousing milestones such as Rosie the Riveter, the World War II symbol that helped encourage more than 6.5 million women to move beyond domesticity into industries such as aircraft and steel and military jobs.

Today, women continue to break ground by pursuing and securing nontraditional careers. So, what exactly defines a nontraditional occupation for women?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, a nontraditional job would be one that women comprise 25 percent or less of total employment in that job. Nontraditional jobs span all major occupations, including detectives, architects, clergy, construction, railroad conductors, truck drivers, fire fighters and small engine mechanics – just to name a few.

The Department of Labor notes that growth in the economy is projected to expand employment in many nontraditional jobs, since they typically pay 20-30 percent higher wages than the traditional “pink-collar” jobs women often pursue. Compare the typical annual salary of a female teacher at $43,000 to a female pharmacist at $75,000.

As more women enter jobs that were once dominated by men, many occupations considered nontraditional for women in the ‘80s are no longer defined as such for women in this decade. More and more women are becoming physicians, surgeons, chemists, coaches and umpires.

Welder woman

So, how does one break into a nontraditional career? Although many technical colleges offer training for nontraditional careers, according to several online career-coaching sites, some women bypass tech schools and start with an apprenticeship that offers short-term training and affords women a good way to sample a job in a particular trade.

And in some cases, women break into these fields in other unconventional ways, as was the case for 42-year-old Monica Moreno.

As vice president of Moreno Welding, it’s safe to say that Moreno runs the show. Her father started the Phoenix-based business in 1979 in the backyard of the family home. Monica was intermittently involved in the business as she was growing up, but it was 14 years ago that she officially joined executive rank at the company, and it’s been all hands-on for her since.

“My father never really wanted us to learn how to weld, but as a woman in this industry, I knew I had to learn,” says Monica. “I started learning how to weld nine years ago. I got tired of going into job-site meetings and not being completely knowledgeable about the trade.”

Moreno Welding currently employs a staff of 15, and specializes in fabricated and structural steel manufacturing. Projects have included work on the Phoenix Sky Harbor Airport terminal 4 bridge, the ASU stadium and the Amazon Warehouse in Phoenix, just to name a few.

As the only woman in the company, Moreno says she continues to look at ways to open the doors for other women in the industry.

“I, along with a handful of other women construction business owners, have created a network called The Sister Group,” Monica says. “We meet once a month and use it as a resource to help support and guide one another. Women in this group own and run local businesses that range from heavy-duty paving and masonry, to engineering and electrical contracting.”

Moreno notes that in her industry, women are definitely the minority, but that it’s interesting to experience the dynamics of working in a male-dominated world.

Calling female math whizzes

For women with a knack for numbers or who are tech-savvy, careers in science, technology, engineering and math, or STEM, are waiting to be started.

Research shows that although women currently make up more than 50 percent of the American workforce, they hold only 14 percent of all engineering positions and 25 percent of mathematics positions. Educational requirements for STEM occupations range from a high school diploma and on-the-job training, to a doctorate degree. But all require the ability of logical thinking.

Think of scientists, and you may picture a chemist in a white lab coat performing experiments. But science goes beyond the lab. Scientists often work in regular offices, and some work outdoors, as a wildlife biologist would to observe animals in their habitats, or a geoscientist would to measure movements in the earth’s crust.

For 40 years, the Association for Women in Science (AWIS) has been advocating for equity and career advancement for women in science and technology. They happen to have a central Arizona chapter. For $65 a year, a woman can become a regular member, and for a $25, she can become a student member of the organization, which connects her to other individuals with similar career goals and interests.

A career in technology, which usually refers to information technology or computer-related occupations, would require technical skill. For example, some technology workers create new software, design computer systems and develop databases. Others focus on helping people use computers and on keeping computer systems running well.

As for a career in engineering, most specialize. Agricultural engineers, for example, design farming equipment, irrigation systems and food processing systems. Bio-medical engineers develop medical devices and instru-ments. Civil engineers, the largest specialty, design bridges, dams and other public works projects. These are just a few occupations or areas of expertise in engineering.

If the field of engineering strikes a chord, research the Society of Women Engineers at www.societyofwomenengineers.swe.org. The organization has a regional chapter in Arizona and offers networking opportunities, a job bank and scholarship information to members.

Last but not least, the mathematics field encompasses many occupations that call for math, but some focus on mathematics almost exclusively. Actuaries, for example, analyze statistical information to determine the risk of uncertain future events, such as hurricanes or automobile collisions. They use these calculations to decide what kinds of insurance a company should offer and how much that insurance should cost. Mathematicians develop new mathematical theories and tools to solve problems. And then there’s statisticians who collect, analyze and interpret data.

Following a nontraditional dream

Regardless of the nontraditional work being pursued, whether it’s in a STEM category or not, there are other considerations to think about aside from job duties, pay and education.

Moreno sheds some light on the matter.

“A nontraditional field can be a hard industry if you don’t have thick skin,” she says. “As women, we’ll be tested time and time again, but you can’t lose focus.”

Moreno plans on going back to school to earn her bachelor’s degree in business, and then plans on furthering her education with a master’s degree.

Funding that nontraditional dream is also possible. The Arizona Business and Professional Women’s Foundation offers a Nontraditional Education for Women (NEW) scholarship, which was established in 1996 to provide funding for women pursuing a career in an occupation where 25 percent or less of the jobs are held by women. Applicants must be enrolled at an Arizona school or institute to qualify.

Moreno leaves us with some final thoughts.

“Sometimes you have to prove your weight, but no matter what, just give it your all and go above and beyond the call of duty. At the end of the day, you only have one life. It’s all about your passion and loving what you do.”

Show her the money

The U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau defines nontraditional occupations as “those in which women comprise 25 percent or less of total employed.” The following nontraditional careers are a few top-paying options, listing 2009 median annual earnings:

Pharmacist: $85,644
Chief executive: $83,356
Computer software engineer: $70,252
Computer scientist or system analyst: $56,264
Auto service technician: $70,000
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Statistics

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