Sunday, April 1, 2012

A Shifting Paradigm: Gender Gap Closing in Farriery

Women in the Professions:

[image: sandra mesrine]

Happened to be perusing a photo gallery the other morning that pictured opening day at one of America's farriery (horseshoeing), schools.  Eager faces -- almost like any freshmen class at university; studying the syllabus for the coming semester of studies.  But then, I noticed something else and began counting heads (or hats maybe), and noticed that...well, as best I could determine, that somewhere between 40 and 50% of the students were women.  Certainly not shocking, but like most trends, a matter of passing curiosity, especially considering that 20-years ago a female horseshoer would have been a rarer find than 10-cent coffee.  Drinkable coffee that is.  So I took a look at it.

The first obstacle was comparative statistics.  Of course, none exist.  While farriers in the United States have had professional representation for almost thirty-years, apparently nobody is very interested in how many farriers actually practice this ancient craft, much less how many women.  Naturally, this makes it pretty difficult to ascertain if this is actually a profession, or merely a weekend hobby for people with a blacksmithing fetish.  Demographics are critically important for a number of reasons, for in order to make critical decisions about an industry, any industry, one must be able to define the scope and economic impact at the center of the conversation.  Well, maybe some other time.

Women made their greatest inroads to both management and labor on the heels of the Equal Opportunity [in] Employment Acts (EOE), in the 1970's.  Initially, the increase was very dramatic, tapering off (but not down), after 1980.  Briefly, women in professions (2005 stats) were: Engineering, 7%; Medicine and Surgery, 38%; Management/Administration, 57%; Paralegals, 83%; and Dietitians (MA or PhD), 95%.  At the same time, these degreed professions also represented a 79% increase in income level over women with only a high school diploma.  Far more significant that the disparity among men.  However, the trend also produced a separate statistic on equality: no real distinction in unemployment rates by gender, meaning that in a recession year, joblessness is no longer the sole bastion of male workers.

But here we get stuck.  What do you compare farriery with when no suitable model exists and no information is readily available?  We always end up back at veterinary medicine if for no other reason than it might involve a horse.  That makes for a weak assumption at best and really limits the discussion more to sociology than economics, and just how they might intertwine. First obstacle: dramatic differences in the educational systems.  That amounts to a simple ratio of investment to potential return.  (Debt to Income Ratio)  Medicine requires a 7-year investment (at least), while farriery can be as little as 8-weeks.  Apples and oranges.  However, it has led to some dramatic shifts in veterinary medicine, particularly since the application of the EOE laws, which also ended all discriminatory application processes in higher education based on gender.  Canada alone, saw male applicants in veterinary medicine drop from 44% in 1985 to 28% by 1999.  US statistics mirrored those numbers.  But why?

Two papers, presented  [Carin A. Smith, DVM, Vet.Cln Small Anim. 36 (2006) 329-339 & Jeanine Lofstedt, DVM, Canadian Vet Journal, 6-03]  by these authors, basically came to similar conclusions, though placed different priorities on agreeable relevance.  Loftset noted these key themes:

For women:


1)  Elimination of discriminatory practices in education.

2)  Improvement of chemical restraint in large animals.

3)  Increase in number of female role models.

4)  Caring image of veterinarians portrayed through books and television.

For men:

1)  Low or stagnant income levels.

2)  Loss of autonomy in the profession.  Proliferation of 'corporate' practices. Decrease in number of practices relative to employed veterinarians.

3)  'Trend effect.'  More women entering the profession -- decreasing professional 'prestige' as a male occupation.  (Ouch!)  But in effect, reducing veterinary medicine to a secondary profession.  The old adage of a 'spousal' job.  [My words, not the authors.]

Cain offered a little different spin on what she referred to as the 'feminization of the profession.'  Most notably, the tendency (and market limits), for women to accept lower salaries than men, which in turn, drops the overall income level for all practitioners.  However, a caveat exists here:  Women don't place income as high on their list of expectations as men.  They (women), tend to find more satisfaction with lower incomes in exchange for a more subjective criteria:  primarily in relationships with colleagues, staff and clients.  She goes on to say that most men look at money as the objective criteria, and further that women are less likely to engage in 'practice ownership,' primarily due to competing demands.  Ownership rates: Men, 61%; Women, 38%.  Almost opposite of the figures applying to veterinary schools.  She goes on to note that it would appear that the levels of care and nurturing have increased in proportion to the number of women entering the field (admittedly difficult to qualify), at the expense of decreased income, but most of this seems to be in the areas of personal preference and lifestyle choices.

So here we are again at what we can now call the 'feminization of farriery.'  Has a nice ring to it, don't you think?  There is no doubt it is happening, regardless of the inability to capture the numbers.  Will it change the profession.  Certainly.  Will it diminish the profession's stature economically?  Not likely.  It may actually improve the picture, for women have an uncanny ability to look beyond the bare-bones economics many men choose to practice.  But in the end, we may never know the answer anyway.  For as long as the profession (by popular accord it would seem), remains in the shadows of the mainstream --  no argument, analysis or projection is practical or possible.  And just maybe it will be the women professionals who finally lead horseshoeing out of the deep, dark recesses of our past.  Or not.