Mortuary science is known as the science of dead bodies, which is a career path that allows people to get the necessary qualifications to become funeral directors or morticians. In the past, being a funeral director was a man’s job, which is something that is changing as more women are pushing their way into the profession – and they are bringing a beneficial set of talents with them.
According to the National Funeral Home Directors Association (NFHDA), more than 60 percent of students studying mortuary science are women. They also make up 16.5 percent of the association, which is up about 7 percent from the last decade. “I’ve been in the business 20 years,” says Jan Smith, a spokeswoman with the NFHDA. “When I first started, there were a handful of us in the class.”
Women are moving into the profession because of the leadership benefits the positions offer, as well as the management experience. They are also moving into the profession with the intent to make waves. “Women are coming into the industry with a strong will to be part of it,” says Bernie Henderson, who is the president of Woody Funeral Home and Cremation Service. “They’re not entering into it casually.”
They’re also entering into the industry with somewhat of a leg up against their male counterparts, something that can’t be said about many industries. “Women bring a level of compassion,” Smith says. “For me to sit down with a mother who lost her child, I can connect on a different level than a man can, just being a mother myself.”
“I think some women may be a little more in touch with feelings than some men may be,” adds Narita Wright, another funeral director at Woody. “And some family members are able to open up to us a little more and tell us what they need.” A woman’s ability to be more empathetic in instances of grieving helps them thrive in the industry, especially during particularly difficult bereavements.
Despite their advantages and their increase in numbers, women in the funeral business still aren’t seen as the norm. One of the reasons is because of the fact that the mortuary business has belonged to men for so long. “Sometimes certain members of families aren’t expecting to see a woman,” says Jordan Mullins, a funeral director at Woody. “They still default to an older man in that role — a gentleman in his 60s rather than a female in her 20s. But being a younger woman can be an advantage, too. It just depends on the family.”
Another reason is the remaining stigma that women aren’t able to handle the pressure of seeing a dead body or can’t handle some of the demands of the job. “Some people thought women wouldn’t be tough enough, [and] that they couldn’t deal with the sight of a dead body,” says Chuck Bowman, the secretary of the Funeral Directors Association’s Board. “Of course, that’s turned out to be a bunch of hocus-pocus.”
Still, there are people who are warming up to the change.
Nicole Blanchard was one of the women privy to evidence of this when she was on the road one day. “I was stopped at a light,” she recounts. “An older gentleman pulled up beside me and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did, and he smiled and said I was the first female hearse driver he had ever seen.”
“He said, ‘I think I like it.’”
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