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August 8, 2015
by Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

NFL Hires First Female Coach: Breaking Down Male Dominated Fields

August 8, 2015 11:13 by Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

Women in the workforce has been a hot topic in the past year. What about a woman in a male only field? The National Football League (NFL) recently hired it’s first ever female coach. The Arizona Cardinals recently hired Jen Welter to act as a linebacker intern coach. While Welter is entering an entirely male dominated field, she has no shortage of qualifications for the job. Welter holds a masters in sports psychology, in addition to a PhD in psychology. She also has played internationally as a professional women’s football player. Welter’s hiring brings to light the changing dynamics of many job fields in hiring women, as well as the future of these fields as many groups lobby for equal pay and opportunity for women in traditionally male dominated fields. When asked about being a role model for girls, Welter replied, “I want little girls to grow up knowing when they put their minds to something, when they work hard, they can do anything.” The changing roles of women in the US workplace remains a slow change, one that is up against a deeply ingrained belief in gender roles. 

Women in the Workforce

 Over the last decade there has been a rise in psychology and sociology research that focuses on women in the workforce (Selmi & Cahn, 2006). As women now make up more than half of the workforce, studies have focused on the impact of home life and ways in which women balance traditional female roles in the home with working life. In addition to how men are now balancing personal roles with kids and household management. So what is it like for women working in male dominated fields? As more women entire industries that are historically male operated, many of these women are starting at lower level positions despite at times their equal qualifications to their male counterparts. As a result, some research has shown that women in male dominated fields choose to leave those fields due to challenges in moving up the ladder. Another factor research cites for women’s short span in male dominated fields is the challenges in balancing the traditional roles at home and drive for family life. 

Changing Stereotypes

Despite shifts in the roles of women both at home and in the workplace, researchers argue that traditional American gender roles, called gender essentialism, is a tacit belief. In other words, gender stereotypes are so deeply ingrained in American culture that gender boundaries still exist and make it difficult for women to truly reach an equal part in many industries (England, 2010). This gender essentialism holds people tightly to roles that have been in place for hundreds of years. The belief that women should be more responsible for home care and child rearing remains a large source of pressure for the modern day woman (Story, 2005). Even women who have been wildly successful in their fields, acting as CEO’s and major figures in other industries, have come forward to discuss the challenges of being a working woman. Breaking these ingrained beliefs will continue to be a difficult and slow moving change. However, women such as Welter, do act as a catalyst to propel society’s ingrained gender beliefs. Breaking into a completely male dominated field makes large waves in the United States’ workforce; however these waves may not reach their full range of change for many decades. Such a deeply ingrained societal belief can be changed, but it does take generations to see any shift in beliefs and behaviors. Women making up the majority of the workforce is a large step forward after decades of women’s rights movements. However, even with women having more numbers in the workforce, the lack of equal pay and difficulty moving up in a job still remains a barrier. It is this barrier that keeps the changing stereotypes at a snail’s pace. 

Impact on Younger Generations

Younger generations of girls will continue to be raised with the tacit belief of traditional gender roles and behaviors. However, with women like Welter breaking stereotypes, younger girls will feel empowered to strive for goals that were once only attainable by men. While many of these girls may go on to follow the trends seen in research in which they attempt to enter male industries only to leave early on and follow a more traditional female job or role, a few will continue to break into male fields. The power of one in a women like Welter can motivate 2 or 3 to break into such fields in the next few years, to then pave a way for a few more. This effect goes on to reach more young girls and grows outward to create change in the greater society. So that with time, there will be more than just a few women in a male dominated field. With more of a balance, a few generations down the line, young girls will be raised in a world where it is more commonplace to have such a balance of gender. It is this shift that creates societal changes and alters that tacit belief that our current society holds. 


England, P. (2010). The gender revolution uneven and stalled. Gender & Society, 24(2), 149-166.

Robinson, K. (2015). ‘The heart factor’: cardinals introduce Jen Welter, first female NFL coach. NBCnews. Retrieved from

Selmi, M., & Cahn, N. (2006). Women in the workplace: Which women, which agenda. Duke Journal of Gender, Law, and Policy, 13, 7-30.

Story, L. (2005). Many women at elite colleges set career path to motherhood. New York Times, 20, A1.

About the Author

Lee Kehoe Lee Kehoe, MS, LMHC, NCC

I have had the opportunity to train and work with an agency that works within a diverse range of facilities in the Rochester area, engaging with clients from all walks of life. My experiences have provided me a solid foundation for Counseling.

Lee Kehoe can be found at
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