A short film for schoolchildren which promotes positive images of young men and women in non-traditional jobs has been produced by the TUC's women’s committee.
If we learned one thing from the recent gender pay gap reporting revelations, it was that our workforce is far more segregated than many people had realised, says Scarlet Harris, TUC women’s officer
It’s no secret that some of the best paid sectors are also the ones where women are under-represented and conversely, the sectors that pay the least are the ones where women are over-represented.
Only 20 per cent of the tech workforce at Apple are women. Women make up just six per cent of engineers in the UK – the lowest proportion in Europe.
Yet sectors like cleaning and caring which are among the lowest paid in our labour market are still dominated by women.
So where are we going wrong and what can we do about it? It may sound obvious, but the first step must be to start valuing “women’s work”.
Invest in social infrastructure
Work by the Women’s Budget Group and the International Trades Union Congress (ITUC) has shown how a greater investment in social infrastructure (for example, childcare), benefits the economy by allowing more women to work because they have childcare and by creating more fairly paid jobs in the sector.
It’s not enough to say that male dominated sectors are better paid so more women should go into those sectors. We need to also question why female dominated sectors are so badly paid.
Tackle sexist career stereotyping
At the same time, we need to remove the barriers to girls and women entering male dominated sectors such as STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths).
Boys and girls are not genetically programmed to like or to excel at different subjects at school. In fact, maths and science were among the top five favourite subjects in a recent poll of 8-15-year-old girls.
Yet by the time they reach GCSE and A-level, the numbers of girls studying maths and science drops significantly.
Only eight per cent of STEM apprentices are girls, with girls representing only three per cent of engineering apprentices and less than one per cent of automotive industry apprentices.
It’s also important that we remove the barriers to boys who want to work in traditionally female sectors such as early years education, where the workforce is 97 per cent female.
Sue Ferns, Prospect senior deputy general secretary and deputy chair of the TUC women’s committee said: “We know that sexist career stereotypes stop children from following their interests and making the most of their skills.
“Raising awareness of the range of opportunities available for everyone is one way of breaking down these barriers and providing pathways to interesting and fulfilling working lives.”
That’s why the women’s committee has produced a short film aimed at schoolchildren which promotes positive images of young men and women in non-traditional jobs as well as a strong message about the value of unions.
The film can be found here and has been created with a view to opening up conversations with young people in the classroom about career choices and stereotypes.
The role of unions in challenging gender stereotyping extends beyond the classroom and into workplaces.
What employers can do
There is a huge amount that employers can and should be doing to recruit and retain more women in STEM and other male dominated sectors, including:
- outreach work with local schools
- targeted recruitment advertising
- offering attractive maternity and shared parental leave and pay
- ensuring women have appropriate protective clothing and changing facilities, and
- taking action to eliminate workplace sexual harassment and discrimination.
Unions have a crucial role to play in bargaining for equality. But gender stereotypes start young so challenging them has to start young too.