National Careers Week (NCW), which takes place between the 2nd and the 6th of March, is a time to inspire young learners at the brink of their careers and make them aware of the wealth of opportunities up for grabs. As a not-for-profit company, NCW focusses on getting young people on the right track and promotes the importance of careers education in schools. At the centre of this organisation is the idea that, with a bit of hard work, anyone can do anything they set their heart on.
Gender has long been used as an unfair boundary in certain careers. Not only do we assign gender roles to people within our society, but we also stereotype jobs with these same set of arbitrary rules. Think about the following fields: nursing, engineering, banking, hairdressing — do you automatically assign each career path a typical gender in your head? We all fall into this trap. Even though times are most certainly changing, some career-based stereotypes are proving hard to shake. What's more, when men and women do embark on the same career path, they are often treated differently to one another. They are treated differently both by other people within the business and any customers the business is providing a service for.
In a study carried out by BBC workplace magazine, a relatively new job (which is therefore not-yet assigned to a certain gender) was studied in close detail. The researchers looked at the role of ‘microfinance loan manager', a role which is split roughly 50/50 between genders. The study considered how loan borrowers responded differently to female loan managers and male managers, who were both in the exact same position.
What they found out was that borrowers reacted differently depending on whether they considered this job to be a ‘female job' or a ‘male job'. If the first loan collector they were assigned to was male, the customer tended to treat the role with more seriousness, assuming the loan manager had more authority and that this role was typically ‘male'. On the other hand, those who had been initially assigned female loan collectors began to think of the position as a ‘female' role. They were seen to treat the repayments less seriously from then on — even if they were reassigned to male loan managers later. This study proved that the gendering of a job happens in an instant, and it can totally alter customers attitudes toward the role and the person completing it.
Evidently, customers have different opinions when interacting with traditionally female jobs and traditionally male jobs. As well as this, men and women are treated differently when displaying the very same attributes in the workplace. An ambitious woman, for example, might be referred to as ‘bossy', while a man acting in the exact same manner may be perceived as ambitious. This trend can be seen from early childhood and must therefore be addressed in schools. Careers week should focus on debunking these gender stereotypes from a young age and make young people aware of the fact that their gender doesn't confine them to certain career paths.
Thankfully, the world of work is undergoing a gradual change. Initiatives such as Women in STEM are encouraging more and more women to enter into traditionally male-dominated workforces such as engineering. In 2018, women made up 21.8 per cent of the engineering sector, and 46.4 per cent of girls aged 11 to 14 said they would consider a career in engineering, a figure that has been seen to gradually increase over recent years.
On the flip side to this, we are seeing more and more men enter into the nursing profession. In 2019, there was a nine per cent increase of the amount of men applying to study nursing at university and many areas are working hard to keep these numbers on the rise. In Scotland for example, the ambition is to have a 25:75 male: female split in this industry by 2030. These numbers are set to keep increasing, and the gender imbalance that we see in certain careers today will hopefully lessen as time passes.
Soon, it will no longer be at all unexpected to be cared for by a male nurse, or to see a female engineer operating a cherry picker. The concept of gendered jobs is already disappearing as more and more people choose to break the mould.