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Tackling the career gender stereotype

The UK NSS discusses the gender stereotype within the workplace, women in STEM subjects and the role of adult education in supporting teachers, academics and employers breaking down barriers.
















There have been great strides to address inequality within the workplace, but more needs to be done both by employers and educational institutions.

Recently the UK Government announced plans to publish league tables which will highlight companies that fail to address pay differences between men and women. Companies and voluntary organisations will be required to reveal the number of men and women in each pay range to show where pay gaps are at their widest. This call will no doubt show greater transparency of pay at different levels within an organisation, but how do organisations and employers encourage diversity at each level within a company?

Diversity Triangle

The principle of the ‘Diversity Triangle’ is a level structure of a company where each level in itself has a breakdown of employees based on for example gender. At the base we have entry level positions such as administration posts, moving up each level you gradually develop through management eventually coming to CEO level. The number of men to women ratio across all levels within an organisation vary but in particular statistics will show that there are a greater number of CEO positions held by men than women. For example 10% of executive directors at Britain’s top companies are female. There are a number of reasons for this not least the stereotype label that has been applied to these positions in yesteryear which still, in most cases, surround them today.

Imbalance in education

The stereotype label of gender applied to a career path can be traced within education. We have seen in the UK that the gender gap at university level is getting wider and not so much the expected ‘more men than women’. In fact it’s quite the opposite; there are more women than men applying and enrolling at university. Roughly 55% of undergraduates are women. However the breakdown of gender by subject reveals a different story for those participating and graduating in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. There are more men representing STEM subjects than women. Statistics by the Higher Education Statistics Agency reveal that male students are over represented in STEM subjects like Computer Science, Engineering and Technology, Mathematic Sciences and Physical Sciences, whereas the proportion of undergraduates in subjects aligned to medicine are mostly female.

The same is reflected in apprenticeships. A report published by WISE, a campaign organisation supporting women to study and build in STEM subjects, showed the number of apprenticeships undertaken by women were greater than men (53%). However the proportion of uptake by subject area was in non-STEM related subjects i.e. Health and Social Care and Business Administration.

Tackling the Stereotype

So how do you tackle the stereotypical career path?

The answer in one way is by putting women in the spotlight.

Case studies work best in an environment where you need role models. Commonly those who have faced obstacles on their own career path are often a voice to spur others to follow suit and pursue there own personal goals.

Adult education can break down barriers

Greater opportunities in accessing educational resources, courses, talks and seminars are needed to make academics, teachers and employers aware and more prepared to face the challenge of the gender divide. A more open discussion and focus on individual case studies can support teachers in gender equity to focus on women who are the lead in the relevant field especially in STEM subjects that have a male dominancy.

In the workplace employers should actively encourage individual development across all levels and ensure that individuals in the same role have the same competences to fulfil their role and progress without boundaries. There should be equal opportunities to attend training courses and to attend ‘refresher’ sessions when an individual is off for a long period of time, for example on maternity leave. For individuals adult education can give them confidence and increase their skills whilst at the same time benefitting the employer.

Having the right support structure tailored for the individual, male or female, whether in a classroom environment or in a workplace will help them achieve their goals.

Share your thoughts and get involve in the conversation: How can adult learning help to address gender inequality?

Jonny Lear is the content coordinator at the UK National Support Service for EPALE. Previously working for the UK National Agency for Erasmus+ and the Life Long Learning Programme he worked in communications working closely with key stakeholders across the UK.

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