The gender pay gap is a complicated issue. Even taking into account age, education, experience, and other common explanations for why men make more than women still leaves a sizeable difference.
A new study of federal government data by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research suggests that so-called middle-skill jobs—a sector that few have examined—may play some roll in the gap. The researches found that women hold only a third of these positions, which pay between $35,000 and $102,000 a year.
If just 10% of women were able to shift from their existing jobs to available better paying work in manufacturing, IT, and transportation, distribution, and logistics, their economic situations would be dramatically altered. Median average earnings for the women who changed careers could jump 50%, from $36,779 to $55,860, based on 2013 numbers. That could mean a 5% increase in the collective earnings of all women.
“These jobs provide options, pathways to decent earnings without needing a full university degree,” study co-author and IWPR Program Director Employment & Earnings Ariane Hegewisch tells Fortune. Such jobs as welders, car mechanics, and IT support staff not only can provide better pay, but according to Hegewisch, federal data shows that employer demand for such positions is growing.
However, the potential for women in such areas often goes unnoticed, as much of the attention to the pay gap has been focused elsewhere. Many of the recent headlines on the subject have zeroed in on women as CEOs, and board members, or in STEM careers or Hollywood jobs.
The study looked at job characteristics in different fields and then matched women in areas that were closely related in to the better-paying middle-skill jobs. Women would still need training for the specifics of these jobs, but the growth in demand means that employers can’t find enough trained people regardless of gender.
“[Manufacturers] need to train new people anyway,” Hegewisch said. Generational factors—such as the retirement of the baby boomers retiring—are helping to drive the push for more skilled employees in these areas. “They find it hard to get very good recruits because people think, ‘Manufacturing, that’s old and it’s not exciting and who wants to work in a dirty environment sort of thing?'”
Getting more women into middle-skill jobs has a double challenge. “It’s a chicken and egg situation in some extent,” Hegewisch said. Women don’t see other women in the field and so don’t apply in the first place. Or they do and become discouraged. “You have few women in the industry. They feel they stick out like a sore thumb and they leave [faster than men].”
In addition, companies don’t do enough to attract female recruits. “Gender segregation is strongest is middle skill jobs. There are very few integrated occupations in middle skill jobs,” Hegewisch said. “It’s hard to get even [corporate] workforce developers to take this seriously.”