On careers advice and tackling gender stereotypes

Girls in Tech


How do you get more girls into careers where they are underrepresented?

It’s a huge topic and very much in the news with the gender pay gap. It came up, of course, at Workingmums.co.uk’s roundtable on women in technology this week.

Where do you need to start? When do the gender stereotypes set in? At school? At nursery? Or maybe before. Perhaps it needs to start with parents since they have such a big influence on their kids. But how do you reach parents?

Employers can target parents who work for them with messages that subvert stereotypes, but then children – and their parents – still exist in the wider world. Social change requires input from individuals, from schools, from employers, from government…from every level at all times.

I’ve been part of a group for the last few years which involves going into schools and talking about your job. I’d be interested to know what the kids make of it all and whether it has any kind of lasting impact. Certain types of events seem to me to be more successful than others.

The ones which involve longer Q & As with the pupils mean you can explain your job, but even so the main questions seem more to do with earnings and holidays than with the actual bones of what you do. Career fairs, are in my experience, not that useful or inspiring.

The kids all group around the stalls of employers they’ve heard of and particularly around those that offer the best freebies. There are some genuine questions, but they are few and far between.

How much does it matter who is delivering the messages? How much do children need to relate to career role models to feel they can follow in their path?

The truth is that whatever the immediate impact, careers at school are often an add-on one-off event and too many of them are just tick box exercises at a time when the tectonic plates of work are shifting hugely. The likelihood is that adapting to change will be the major feature of work in the future and that employers will need to be more open-minded when they recruit and look to harness people’s broader skillsets and potential to learn better.

*Mum on the run is Mandy Garner, editor of Workingmums.co.uk.

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