Young Women's Trust recently published a report called The Clock Turns Back for Young Women (Young Women's Trust November 2015) which demonstrated that young women take a more gendered approach than older women towards professions and work and think that many traditional male roles are out of their reach. In relation to the roles of electrician, ICT technician, construction worker, care worker, nurse and plumber, women aged 31 and over were more likely than young women, aged 18-30, to say that the role was suitable equally for young men and women. (For example 90% of older women think IT and Hairdressing are equally suitable for young women and young men but only 60% of younger women agreed). Also nearly 30% of young women think that a young woman is irresponsible for wanting to work if she has young children.
I was pleased when the Daily Mail, print and online, decided to cover this report today ( "We're better at child-care than jobs", 9.12.15) and not surprised when the explanation given by one commentator, Belinda Brown, online was that "these young women are actually shaping the world around them and it is their views and preferences that keep firmly in place the gendered nature of training and work". I suppose the same argument could theoretically be given for anyone throughout the UK who is paid less than the minimum wage or who is unemployed but I doubt anyone would seriously suggest that they are preferring to be poor and "shaping the world around them" to keep it that way!
YWT is not as Belinda suggests treating young women as "hapless muppets" but we are indeed suggesting that these traditional views are associated with the stubbornly gendered nature of work and the perpetuating stereotypes of male and female roles and activities. YWT argues that young women are responding to what they can see and the barriers they experience. The pervasiveness of these barriers mean they are more likely to be influenced by stereotypes, family and peer pressure and by the advice they receive. For example a previous YWT report showed that young women are advised by careers and job advisors to go down "female" routes.
Each young woman MAY think that she is making an individual and informed choice but it is surprising then that the figures for women in engineering occupations remain only at 7% and in manual trades at 2% (with no change for 30 years). Can it really be that a generation of young women are not influenced by their cultures and environments or by a recession which still leaves them with the highest risk of unemployment and economic inactivity?
It surprises many people that it is young women who are those most likely to be out of work or education (NEET) and that this has been the case for over 14 years. It is also a surprise to many that young women are the largest group stuck in low paid and insecure jobs or on zero hours contracts.
Young women are highly under-represented in many areas of apprenticeships (2.7% in engineering, ICT and construction) and over represented in health, social services and children's care apprenticeships (86% are female) and this divide continues into employment. Young women are more likely to be entering areas of work which pay less and offer less job security such as caring, retail and beauty.
Polls conducted for YWT have shown that the majority of workless young women, with or without children, want to work or many who are in work, want more hours. They want to be paid a salary that makes it feasible to work. A staggering 20% of the young women polled for The Clock Turns Back said they have been offered jobs paying less than the minimum wage. Nearly 25% of mothers under 30 in the poll said that having children means they have not been able to get a job or they have had to choose a different job due to their caring responsibilities. 29% of mothers said they have been treated unfairly at work. Despite what they really want to do, staying at home may be the only option and young women know it. These statistics, which demonstrate the huge challenges facing young women, were not included in the Daily Mail piece.
It is crucial that we don't put the situation down to individual choice and that we take steps to convince young women that their presence is valued and respected particularly in traditionally male areas of work. Talents will go to waste without urgent action and there will be a growing lack of young people with the right skills to fill the increasing number of vacancies in industries such as ICT and engineering.