Young women have a lot to say, and Wales needs to listen

Dr Hade Turkmen shares new research into into the career experiences and aspirations of young women in Wales

Chwarae Teg has been fighting for gender equality in Wales for over 25 years, scrutinising and working with Government, businesses and others across Wales to improve equality.  As a charity we want to help women achieve and prosper, with a focus on improving women’s position in the labour market. We decided to mark our quarter of a century by speaking to the young women whose futures we hope to improve; to hear their voices, their views, their aspirations and ambitions for work, and what more they feel needs to be done to allow them to achieve their goals and ultimately, create a more equal Wales.


We raised these questions with young women aged 16-25 across Wales, and their responses have formed our latest report, ‘Bright: Young Women’s Career Aspirations.’  We place a lot of hope in our younger generations, but how can we ensure that they’re able to prosper if we don’t know what prosperity looks like to them? The Deloitte Millennial Survey 2018 found that diversity and flexibility as well as financial reward is what attracts millennials to jobs and companies, but it also found that while they recognise the significance of automation and the digitalisation of industry, many feel unprepared and that they don’t have the skills and knowledge needed to thrive.  It’s crucial that women are represented equally in the new career paths and industries that are taking shape.


Our research supported the findings of the Deloitte survey; young women want a rewarding job, which challenges them and presents opportunities for progression and development, but allows for healthy work-life balance.  However, while women are clear about their priorities and have high aspirations, there’s a lot of uncertainty about how they can achieve their goals.


Of the women we spoke to, 67% perceived barriers to achieving their career goals, and alarmingly this increases with age.  Young women recognised the barriers they face as women, and how these intersect with barriers experienced by BAME women, disabled women, and women from low-income families.  When it comes to skills for the future, despite young women recognising the need for more women in STEM, many still did not want to work in the industry describing it as a ‘hostile environment’.  Some also expressed frustration at how, as a result, more arts-focused or traditional roles were ‘looked down upon’ and some young women felt that their choices weren’t always respected.


Despite feeling that the odds are stacked against them, young women are far from defeatist in their attitudes.  They feel confident to overcome these barriers if they are equipped with the recognition, support and empowerment needed.  More support was called for consistently throughout our research; more support for women to develop their soft skills and access work experience; more support networks and peer groups to boost confidence and encourage women to speak out against discrimination and harassment, and crucially, more support from careers services.


Perhaps one of the most striking findings from our report was that women are feeling let down by careers services in Wales.  Only 36% have, or are currently using careers services, and only 29% of women we spoke to have any kind of career plan. Of those that do have a career plan, 42% are working on it alone.  Careers services were seen to take a traditional and gendered approach which doesn’t allow young women to explore all the options available to them, and be creative in finding a career based around their passions.  Careers services are also seen to be more useful by the older women we spoke to, however, most access career services through school so this raises questions about availability.


Careers services need to reflect the changing labour market and provide dynamic and ongoing support via platforms that young women can and do access.


This research provides a crucial insight into the experiences and aspirations of young women. These women are our future workforce, and we need to make sure they are being supported to achieve their goals and reach their full potential.  The experiences of young women reflected in the research leave us to think about how we prepare the workforce for the future of work; how support programmes can be enhanced and how the current conditions can be improved. With ongoing reforms to education, skills and careers policy in Wales, now is the perfect time to understand how well current provision is delivering for young women and what more can be done to ensure that they have a good understanding of how best to enter and progress in rewarding careers that offer stability and align with their passion.


We hope that our report can provoke a conversation about how we are preparing our future generations for work, and encourage decision makers to consider whether the needs of these young women are being met.  Young women have a lot to say, and Wales needs to listen.


Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

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Dr Hade Turkmen is a Research Partner at Chwarae Teg and Author of the report ‘Bright: Young Women’s Career Aspirations’

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