We urgently need to widen career aspirations of the UK’s young women – and we need to start young. Despite several decades of progress, gender inequalities are still rife in today’s labour market: women continue to be paid less than men (with the gender pay gap even increasing slightly last year), they are overrepresented in low paid industries, are less likely to make it to the top positions, and are still absent from many boardrooms. By Katy Jones at the Work Foundation
A major factor behind this is that women are still far more likely to take on more than their share of caring responsibilities, for both for their children and older relatives. With care options limited by an inadequate and expensive supply, many have no choice but to either leave the labour market entirely or seek part-time work which is often only available in lower paid occupations. However, in The Work Foundation’s recent research for the TUC – The Gender Jobs Split – we found that divisions are stark, even in young men and women’s first few years in the world of work (before many must take on caring responsibilities).
Our report highlights persistent gender divisions at all levels of the youth labour market – but these are most stark at the lower paid end, with men and women dominating occupations traditionally regarded as male (e.g. manual jobs) and female (e.g. caring and personal service jobs). For example, about 20% of young men work in ‘skilled trades’ occupations, compared with 1 % of young women; and 20% of young women work in personal services, compared with 5% of young men. These gender divisions have been remarkably persistent and we’ve seen depressingly little change over the past few decades. This has significant implications for young women as they are much more likely to enter jobs with lower pay and fewer progression opportunities.
Addressing these divides is no easy task. In our report, we made several recommendations about how these issues might be tackled. Part of the solution is to challenge traditional gender roles at an early stage and ensure that young women (and young men) have better information about the opportunities associated with pursuing different kinds of careers.
The struggle to help young women break into the top high paid careers is an important one, but efforts need to be pitched at all levels, with more focus on the bottom end of the labour market which is most divided. Campaigns like Inspiring Women are vital to widening the career aspirations of young women, and their focus on state schools is really important in ensuring that whatever their background, young people’s aspirations and, in turn, choices are not constrained by their gender.