Dr Tomos Evans lays out the ways in which gender stereotypes continue to shape young women’s career prospects in Wales.
This week, Chwarae Teg have published our latest report which examines young women’s experiences of careers advice and guidance services in Wales. The report presents a mixed picture of how well services are delivering for young women and girls.
Unfortunately, our report reveals that too many decisions taken about education and careers by young women are still heavily influenced by gender stereotypes. This trend is particularly marked in the choices of young women from lower socio-economic backgrounds and continues to recreate entrenched segregation in the labour market.
Women are under-represented in senior positions and much less likely to be working in sectors traditionally seen as “male”, such as engineering, IT and construction. This segregation is rooted in decisions made about education and careers at a young age.
26% of young women who responded to our survey stated that the careers support they had accessed didn’t give them what they needed.
Careers advice and guidance is a critical tool in challenging these stereotypical ideas about career pathways and tackling stereotypes in the workplace. As our economy changes, and new sectors, such as digital and green technology, emerge and grow, we risk replicating the same segregation and further entrenching inequality.
A number of respondents to our research highlighted issues of gender stereotypes in the advice and support they received, for example;
“Women were only steered towards certain careers such as hospitality and cosmetics. Men were guided towards the careers that require more education or are more high profile such as policing and engineering” – Age 17
Despite this frustrating picture, compared to our previous report on this topic Bright: Young Women’s Career Aspirations we have found that more young women see careers advisors as an important source of information and support. It’s also clear that Wales as a strong network of career service providers and professionals who are passionate about providing good careers advice.
However, challenges still remain. 26% of young women who responded to our survey stated that the careers support they had accessed didn’t give them what they needed. Engagement with potential employers and the world of work was low for younger age groups, with just 39% of 14-18 year olds having done any work experience. The pandemic inevitably has had an impact on some activities, but as we continue to emerge from the pandemic consideration will need to be given to how online and hybrid delivery can work best for people with different needs and experiences.
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Across all the careers services mentioned in the survey, there is a significant gap between the awareness and use of those services. For example while 90% of respondents had heard of Careers Wales, just 58% had used the service. We need to explore why this gap exists in greater depth.
In order to ensure that career services deliver for young women in Wales, we have set out recommendations for Welsh Government and careers service providers.
Although there are currently multiple pressures on the Welsh Government’s budget, investment in careers advice and guidance makes sense both for young women in Wales and our nation’s economic future.
We know that gender stereotypes continue to influence too many career decisions and that’s why we want to see Welsh Government supporting schools to tackle outdated stereotypes. We would also like to see additional support for parents so that they are empowered to support their children as best they can. This should involve career advice services providing parents with more information on the labour market and how world of work is changing.
Becoming what you cannot see can be very challenging which is why having role models in a range of sectors and industries who are accessible to young women is central to tackling entrenched gender inequality.
We know that no one-size fits all approach can meet the needs of all young women. Welsh Government therefore has to make sure that career support services and career advice professionals are given the tools they need to provide dynamic and flexible support that offers information about a broad variety of jobs. As a trusted source of information for their pupils, we should also support teachers better by providing them with the skills and training needed to offer basic advice and guidance to their pupils and signpost to other services.
Welsh Government cannot act alone in trying to improve careers advice and guidance services for young women, which is why it is important that they enable Wales’ network of committed and professional career service providers to fulfil their roles to the best of their ability. Together with service providers, more focus should be placed on widening access to work experience, networking, and mentoring opportunities. Becoming what you cannot see can be very challenging which is why having role models in a range of sectors and industries who are accessible to young women is central to tackling entrenched gender inequality.
Careers service providers and representative bodies should also make sure that professionals have access to the most up to date information on careers, this is especially the case for emerging jobs and sectors. Providers should make equality and unconscious bias training mandatory for all involved in delivering careers education and advice to make sure we are tackling stereotypes and achieving equitable outcomes.
As our economic world changes and we respond to the climate crisis, guaranteeing that young women can access the advice and guidance they deserve makes sense. It will help create a more equal, greener, and prosperous Wales for all.
Hopefully when we revisit the topic of young women’s experiences of career advice and guidance services we will have seen further improvement in what’s on offer and gender stereotypes in the world of work will have become a thing of the past.
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