Welcome to the pay gap - a short animation

Be What You Want is excited to share this short animation on the causes of the gender pay gap.

We know the gender pay gap goes far beyond the principle of equal pay for equal work, and include gender stereotyping, the undervaluation of women’s work, a lack of quality part-time and flexible work, exorbitant childcare costs, male-centric workplace cultures which feel exclusive to women, discrimination and more.

Gender stereotyping begins from birth, when a child is dressed in either a pink or a blue babygro, or given a doll or a truck to play with. Children and young people are exposed to gendered messaging throughout their lives, and this messaging shapes their ideas about who they are, narrows their aspirations, and limits their potential. Assumptions about girls’ and boys’, and young women’s and young men’s capabilities and preferences sees them make subject and future career choices which are heavily influenced by gender norms.

Close the Gap is calling on stakeholders from across the education and skills pipeline to take strategic, cohesive action to tackle gender stereotyping and gender segregation in subject choice, and to support children and young people to be what they want to be.

We hope this short film will help shed light on the causes of the pay gap, and encourage all stakeholders to take action. It’s up to all of us to close the gap.

No Small Change required in education

This week saw the report of the Scottish Parliament Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee inquiry into the gender pay gap. The report No Small Change: The economic potential of closing the pay gap makes 45 recommendations, to Scottish Government, its agencies, and employers, that aim to tackle women’s inequality at work.

An important factor is the recognition by the Committee that the pay gap is a complex and systemic problem, and tackling it requires actions from a range of stakeholders across childcare, procurement, business support, economic development policy and delivery, education and skills. We have enthusiastically welcomed the recommendation that Scottish Government develop a national strategy, the key ask from Close the Gap and Engender.

So what does this mean for education policy, for our schools and teachers, and for children and young people?

The Committee’s core recommendation on education states that “a gendered analysis of education is key to tackling the gender pay gap”. The Committee was clear that changes are needed in the education system, and is going to write to the Scottish Parliament Education and Skills Committee with their findings and ask them to consider the issue further in their future work. The Education and Skills Committee has not previously undertaken specific work on equalities, therefore this is a welcome step.

In order that meaningful change can take place it’s important that education policymakers, and teaching and career professionals, understand the link between the gender pay gap and girls’ and boy’s experiences of education.

Occupational segregation, where women and men are clustered into different types and levels of work, is a key cause of the gender pay gap, and a cradle to labour market issue. From the day children are born they are categorised by pink and blue baby clothes. As they get older and learn through play, girls’ and boys’ education journey is already being shaped by whether they are given dolls and kitchen sets, or trains and building blocks.

As they move into formal education girls and boys and young men and young women are funnelled into different subjects based on stereotypes and gendered assumptions about their capabilities and interests. This in turn leads to further divergence in subjects studied in college, university or training, and finally to occupational segregation in the labour market.

The acutely gendered roles we see as a result of this mean that unless we disrupt the cycle the next generation of children will grow up surrounded and influenced by the same gender stereotypes we see today. This is why the Committee’s recommendation of a gendered analysis of education is so important.

Currently, the education policy landscape is fragmented. There are a number of policies which require action on gender equality, primarily the public sector equality duty, and the Developing the Young Workforce strategy.

Under the public sector equality duty, public authorities such as Education Scotland, and local and education authorities are obliged to take action to advance gender equality. The duty requires that gender is mainstreamed into everything public authorities do. Currently, this is not being done well. At present education authorities’ reporting under the duty is done as part of local authorities’ reporting, despite education authorities being separate listed bodies. This has resulted in a lack of meaningful action by education authorities to advance gender equality. There is a clear opportunity for education stakeholders to improve their understanding of the duty and utilise it to support action on gender inequality

Developing the Young Workforce (DYW), the youth employment strategy, has clear recommendations on tackling gender stereotyping and gender segregation, however there has been an inconsistent approach in the adoption of recommendations with some regional DYW groups prioritising non-equalities actions, and not implementing those which relate to gender.

The Career Education Standard and Work Placement Standard which were developed by Education Scotland to support the delivery of the DYW strategy, set out standards for teaching and careers professionals, along with parents, employers and Skills Development Scotland, on learning about work and careers. Gender is only referenced once in these policies, with a generic commitment to promoting equality of opportunity. Without the inclusion of specific and measurable actions to address gender inequality these standards will fail to address gender segregation.

Education Scotland has recently undertaken a review of these standards; however the lack of specific action on equality was not identified as a development area. It is imperative that this is considered prior to the redevelopment of these standards.

The work of the Scottish Attainment Challenge has also failed to consider gender. This work seeks to address the attainment gap between pupils from the richest and poorest backgrounds, but this fails to take account of a range of gendered issues including gender segregation in subject choice; sexist and sexualised bullying in the classroom, and sexist teaching practices; masculinity and its inter-relationship with classroom behaviour and attitude towards learning; violence against women and girls, including the commercial sexual exploitation of girls at risk of poverty; and abortion and reproductive healthcare as poorer girls and young women have the least access to these services.

Work to break the cycle of poverty, and to ensure that young people born into the poorest households can expect to achieve on the same levels as those born into the richest, is essential. It is also essential that we acknowledge that the type of work which young men from low-income households enter into will be higher paid and higher valued than the type of work entered into by their female counterparts, regardless of their attainment level. Without a gender analysis of the impact of the attainment gap there is a very real risk that the most vulnerable girls and young women will be left behind.

The recent announcement of the decentralisation of power to Head Teachers creates further challenges around accountability, as individual schools will have responsibility for delivery work on attainment without gender competence.

Furthermore, there has been no equality impact assessment undertaken for either the DYW Strategy, or the Scottish Attainment Challenge work, despite this being a requirement of the public sector equality duty, and a critical mechanism to understand the differential impact of policy on women and men.

If taking action to address gender inequality is seen as an option, and not a requirement, then future generations of girls and young women will face the same inequality which characterises our present society. Education policy must have a gender analysis, and an across the board commitment to tackle gender inequality, if we are to see real change.

Our Be What You Want campaign aims to address occupational segregation, and therefore the gender pay gap, by working with education policymakers, practitioners, and young people to build an understanding of gender stereotyping, and encourage non-traditional subject choices.

We offer free resources and can deliver CPD sessions for teaching practitioners, and classroom sessions for pupils, on gender stereotyping and occupational segregation, and how young people can keep their options open by challenging it. We hope that tackling gender segregation in subject choice will lead to reduced occupational segregation in the labour market, a closing of the gender pay gap, and a reduction in gender inequality.

Children and young people learn in school that if they work hard and study they will improve their chances of getting a good job. Girls outperform boys across the education and skills pipeline, yet when they reach the labour market the tables are turned and they find their skills and hard work are not rewarded in the same way as their male counterparts.

It’s time to break the cycle. It’s time to close the gender pay gap, and to enable young women to enter employment with the knowledge that they will be treated fairly.

Gap advert promotes gender stereotypes

There has been a bit of a Twitterstorm in the past day or so over Gap’s advert for its latest kids’ clothes depicting, as is customary, the boys’ styles and the girls’ styles in ‘artfully’ juxtaposed images. Nothing controversial there, but when the boys are framed as ‘little scholars’, while the girls are presented as ‘social butterflies’, it’s time to challenge this as throwback sexist nonsense.

We live in a world where girls and boys are expected to occupy two entirely separate spheres; the girls’ sphere is pretty, pink and passive, while the boys’ is active, varied and exciting. We ignore the fact that there are far more differences among groups of girls and boys than there are between them, instead teaching them that they are almost two different species. And because of the sexism still endemic in society this separation comes with a hierarchy of value, in which gender is often used as an insult, the refrain “you’re such a girl” common in playgrounds everywhere.



The rigid codes of pink and blue permeate all parts of children’s lives. The unnecessary gendering of toys is a particular focus for campaigns like Pink Stinks and Let Toys Be Toys, which highlight the way this limits children’s potential, narrowing the scope of their imaginations from an early age. While ‘boys’ toys’ showcase a huge range of options, from building sets to science kits to *all* the sports, girls’ selection is distinctly more limited, with most options subtly (or overtly) encouraging the privileging of image and beauty over all other qualities.

But, the fact is, Gap’s framing of boys as ‘scholars’ and girls as ‘the talk of the playground’ doesn’t bear out. Girls outperform boys at all stages and in all areas of education, indeed there has been increasing focus on boys’ under-attainment and what can be done to address it. Recent work in Sweden has identified a possible link between boys’ low attainment levels and girls’ feelings of stress and insecurity at school; noting that boys seek status by ‘acting out’ and engaging in physical and verbal ‘rough play’, which in turn makes the girls feel uncomfortable and insecure, should they be singled out as a target.

Despite girls’ high educational attainment, they are failing to see improved outcomes in the labour market, with the gender pay gap and glass ceiling still holding women back. A recent study showed female graduates earn less than males - even if they studied the same subject and had the same degree class. Work must be done to improve boys’ achievement levels, but it must be matched by work to tackle gender inequality in employment, or we will continue to see the same patterns, with women clustered into lower paid work, often far below their skill level.

Our own campaign Be What You Want highlights the link between this limiting of children and young people’s worlds, these stereotypical assumptions about their capabilities and preferences, and the wider gender inequality we see in society. We hope that tackling gender segregation in subject choice will lead to reduced occupational segregation in the labour market. We work with schools to support young people to make more informed choices about which subjects they want to study; choices which are based on what they enjoy and are good at, and not based on gender stereotypes. We offer free resources and can deliver classroom sessions to talk about gender stereotyping and occupational segregation, and how young people can keep their options open by challenging it.

If you’d like us to come to your school, get in touch here, or you can access our free resources here.

SMART STEMs: Inspiring young women

Last week saw the SMART STEMs debut event hosted by Caledonian University which was attended by 500 young women aged between 11 and 18. The day included a mix of inspiring female speakers as well as practical breakout sessions which allowed participants to interact with technology.

SMART STEMs recognises that due to outdated perceptions various demographics are more involved in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) than others. The first mission of SMART STEMs is to inspire young women to become the great thinkers and creators of tomorrow.

Our stall was over-run at the event by group after group of enquiring young women who were keen to learn as much as possible during the event. We chatted with them about what subjects they enjoyed, what they wanted to be when they left school, and how gender stereotyping might impact on their hopes and plans for their future in the world of work. It was great to see how the young women engaged with these ideas and excitedly discussed their own thoughts and opinions. Our BWYW materials also went down a storm, and we encouraged everyone to take them back to their schools and tell their friends what they’d learned.

Our teacher resources packs were also very popular, and we had some great discussions with teachers about how they could use them in their own lesson plans, and how we could support them to deliver sessions to their pupils. We have made new connections with a number of schools and we hope to be visiting them all soon; introducing Be What You Want to wide range of pupils all over Scotland.

If you are interested in learning more about gender stereotyping and how that impacts on subject and career choices, or you’d like us to deliver a session in your school, please get in touch with us at

Wood Commission publishes final report on Developing Scotland's Young Workforce

This month saw the publication of the final report from the Wood Commission, Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce. The core message of the report is to better exploit the relationship between schools, colleges, business and industry to mitigate any mismatch between the supply and demand of skills, and deliver a system which supports young people to make better informed choices about their future.

Currently, youth unemployment in Scotland is 18 per cent, double the average working age population. Young men are more likely to be unemployed than young women, but if we consider economic inactivity, a higher percentage of young women are economically inactive compared to men. 88 per cent of those who are unable to work due to caring for family are young women, compared to 12 percent of young men.

Amidst the backdrop of high unemployment and economic inactivity, there is the perennial issue of occupational segregation in the labour market. The stereotyping of women and men’s capabilities leads to the undervaluing of certain occupations, which are broadly recognised as ‘women’s work.’ Men are over-represented in engineering, construction and IT and women are over-represented in administration, health and social care sectors, all of which is evidenced in the Commission’s report.

Furthermore, the concentration of part-time working in lower paid, female-dominated sectors (43% of women in the labour market work part-time) and the lack of flexible working limits women’s employment opportunities. The ‘sticky floor’ and ‘glass ceiling’ effect causes women to be clustered into a few occupational sectors, and are missing from senior roles within organisations and businesses. Occupational segregation is one of the main causes of the gender pay gap, and part-time working has a long-term scarring effect on women’s wages.

The report is promising in its analysis of education, training and the wider labour market from a gender perspective recognising the impact gender stereotyping and occupational segregation has on limiting young women’s labour market participation, and subsequently economic growth.


Rather than mainstream a gender analysis throughout the report, the Commission has opted to address gender equality within a separate section of the report, albeit a substantial one. There are four recommendations explicitly focusing on gender with an additional cross-cutting recommendation on embedding equalities education across the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE):

1. Schools

Occupational segregation is partly a symptom of girls’ and boys’ early exposure to gender stereotyping impacting on the subject choices they make in pre-school and school education. It is encouraging to see the report highlighting the importance of early intervention to tackle gender stereotyping.

The report calls on schools to monitor the gender balance of subject choices, as part of broad recommendation calling for equalities to be embedded across the CfE. Schools are being encouraged to develop specific measures to counter gender stereotyping and to support this work the report recommends that equality training forms part of initial training for nursery workers, teachers and career advisors, and is offered as part of existing Continuing Professional Development (CPD) opportunities.

2. Vocational Pathways

There is also a focus on establishing a senior phase post-school vocational pathway which would aim to strengthen the case for vocational training as viable alternative to the academic route, and ensure those 50 per cent of school leavers who don’t go to university, can positively transition from school into college, work or work-based training. The Commission envisages the Regional Invest in Youth Groups as a mechanism to showcase the business benefits of gender equality in the workplace to employers.

3. College Education

The Commission also calls on the Scottish Funding Council to develop an action plan to tackle gender segregation within the college education system. Colleges are also encouraged to engage with schools to support early interventions to tackle gender stereotyping, which lead to positive outcomes for young women and men.

4. Modern Apprenticeships

Gendered segregation within the MA programme in Scotland has been the focus of debate and analysis for over 10 years. It is evident the MA programme has particularly failed young women by reinforcing gender occupational segregation and channelling women into Level Two frameworks resulting in lower paid employment opportunities. As the report highlights, Level Three frameworks are more likely to deliver positive outcomes for young people and tend to be concentrated in construction, engineering and other related STEM areas, they take longer to complete and are regarded ‘more highly by employers and command a higher wage premium on completion’.

The report makes an explicit connection between post-school vocational pathway and tackling gender segregation in Modern Apprenticeship Frameworks, and calls on key stakeholders to take significant action. This includes a call for Skills Development Scotland to develop an action plan to tackle the chronic gender segregation in Modern Apprenticeships, which should include ‘realistic stretching improvement targets’ for the most heavily gender segregated frameworks. It is essential therefore those targets focus on attracting women into Level Three Frameworks, such as engineering.

The Commission also wants to see partnerships between schools, training providers, colleges, employers and equalities bodies to help develop support networks for young people in the most heavily segregated MAs. However, this must also include a commitment to provide support to young women with caring responsibilities or those furthest from the labour market to be able to engage with MA opportunities. This should include subsidised childcare and flexible working opportunities. Unless these barriers to participation are addressed then the vast majority of unemployed and economically inactive young women will continue to miss out.

If these recommendations were fully realised, are they likely to result in better outcomes for young women and men? Or perhaps there needs to be more radical changes to the funding, delivery and design of the MA programme to enable stakeholders to improve the outcomes for young women. For example, strategies to support young women into training and employment must be flexible to accommodate women’s caring responsibilities, and might include direct support for childcare.

The Wood Commission’s report is a welcome step in the right direction, but the mainstreaming of gender specific recommendations across the education, skills and training pipeline will require a concerted effort from skills bodies, funders and, crucially, employers.