A new report focuses on the damaging role gender stereotypes play in children’s career choices and their mental well being.
Harmful gender stereotypes can affect career paths, significantly limiting children’s career choices and adding to the mental health crisis among young people, according to a report from the Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood.
The Commission, established by the Fawcett Society, calls for changes in education, parenting and the commercial sector. It finds nearly three quarters of parents think boys and girls are treated differently, with 60% saying this has a negative impact. Seventy per cent of mothers and 60% of fathers say that this unequal treatment affects how able boys are to talk about their emotions.
The report, Unlimited Potential, sets out how gender expectations significantly limit children, causing problems such as lower self-esteem in girls and poorer reading skills in boys. The report finds that stereotypes contribute towards the mental health crisis among children and young people and are at the root of girls’ problems with body image and eating disorders, higher male suicide rates and violence against women and girls.
Stereotyped assumptions also significantly limit career choices, contributing to the gender pay gap. Seven times as many parents asked what work they could see their children doing when they grow up said they could envisage their sons working in construction (22%) compared to just 3% for their daughters, while almost three times as many could see their daughters in nursing or care work (22%), compared to 8% in relation to their sons.
The report also found that 66% of parents want to see companies voluntarily advertise toys to boys and girls in the same way and 38% of education practitioners said they had either had negligible training, or none at all, on challenging gender stereotypes before starting their role.
The report is the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, cochaired by Professor Becky Francis, now Chief Executive of the Education Endowment Foundation and David Lammy in his capacity as former chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Fatherhood.
Its recommendations include providing role models and helping parents to challenge stereotypes. Evidence gathered by the Commission shows that how parents divide up domestic and paid work tasks impacts on children’s perceptions of gender stereotypes and that getting fathers more involved can help challenge stereotypes. The Commission finds that 69% of fathers and 76% of mothers agree that dads should be given longer, better-paid time off when a child is born, if they want it.
Other recommendations span changes in education, the workplace and how toys are marketed. The Commissioners call on the Department for Education to make challenging gender stereotypes a priority all the way through teaching and childcare – from initial training, to the curriculum, to inspection frameworks. They want to see toy companies drop “toys for boys” and “toys for girls” in their advertising and product design, designers to end stereotypical imagery and slogans on clothes and they want to see improvements in the representation of female characters in books, TV and online content.
Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the Commission. From “boys will be boys” attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime.
“We need to end the ‘princessification’ of girls and the toxification of boys. The commercial sector too often uses gender stereotypes and segregates boys and girls simply to sell more products. But this is not about making everything gender neutral. We also have to make women and girls visible when, because of pre-existing bias, the default male will still be the prevailing assumption. So, for example, routinely showing children women leaders or scientists is important.
“The majority of parents recognise that there is a problem and increasingly they want something different. They want to see real change coming from Government and companies and need practical help to make changes themselves.”