Gender Equality in Work Experience Placements for Young People

A report by the London Metropolitan University (Dr Becky Francis, Ms Jayne Osgood, Dr Jacinta Dalgety, Dr Louise Archer), commissioned by the Equal Opportunities Commission

This report analyses the magnitude of gender differences and socio-economic bias in the uptake of work placements for various occupations, comparing its findings to national data records of gender distribution in particular careers. Study data was generated in four stages: telephone interviews with twelve representatives of Learning and Skills Councils; semi-structured telephone interviews with ten EBPO managers; questionnaires completed both by sixteen work experience co-ordinators from different schools across ten Local Education Authorities and by 566 Year 11 pupils in mixed-ability classes from eighteen schools; plus four in-depth case studies (two schools applying interventions relating to gender and work experience and two schools with no such intervention).

There was a “high level of endorsement” of work placements amongst pupils, with most aspects of the experience given very positive ratings. Pupils were encouraged by EBPOs and schools to find their own work experience; however, this ‘freedom of choice’ model had problems, “perpetuating inequalities, as different pupils have different levels of knowledge of, and access to work placements through social networks”.

Researchers found that “work experience placements are strongly segregated by gender”, for example, no female pupil chose to take up placements in agriculture, engineering and construction while just some 5% of boys chose placements in community care and the beauty professions. The report shows the way that occupational gender segregation is contributing to skills shortages in key professions in the UK and, given that work experience placements have a direct feed-in to decisions about the future, indicates that the problem is likely to continue: 43% of boys and 38% of girls said their placement had encouraged them to work in that area.

Additionally, “placements are linked to socio-economic grouping”. Those not intending to go to university were far less likely to undertake office and education placements and more likely than other pupils to take placements in hair and beauty and semi/unskilled manual work.

Researchers note “a will for change” amongst pupils: nearly a half of girls and a third of boys said they would consider doing a job usually done by the opposite sex. However, instances of interventions designed to tackle the high uptake of gender-stereotypical roles were few, many managers/teachers referring to a policy-based equality scheme as opposed to a particular initiative. Only 15% of students said that they had received specific guidance about non-traditional placements. The report makes a series of recommendations for reducing the trends in occupational stereotyping.

Gender Equality in Work Experience Placements for Young People – full report