Gender stereotyping is when simple generalisations are made about the attributes, behaviour or characteristics of a person (or group) based on whether they are a woman or a man. When children are told 'pink is for girls and blue is for boys', it's because of gender stereotyping. When you hear terms like 'female engineer' or 'male nurse', it's because of gender stereotyping. When we expect women to shoulder the burden of caring for children and older dependants, it's because of gender stereotyping. We are conditioned from an early age to associate particular jobs or roles with one gender, and this limits the ability of children and young people to be what they want to be.
Gender stereotyping is one of the main reasons that we see girls and boys studying ‘traditional’ subjects which we would associate with being typically 'female' or 'male', for example girls are more likely to be found in a home economics class, while boys are more likely to be found in a physics class. Expectations based on traditional ideas of the roles of women and men in society affect the types of choices girls and boys make about what they want to do when they leave school. As a result girls and boys become clustered into different areas of study, which feeds into employment and the segregation of women and men into different types of work, for example women make up the majority of care workers, while men are the majority of engineers, and different levels of work, with men concentrated in the highest paid jobs and women in the lowest. This is known as occupational segregation.
A Careers Scotland survey in 2004 found that by the time young people reached S3, girls and boys had fixed ideas about gender roles, such as ‘women are better at caring and talking to people’ and ‘men are stronger’. Girls in the study were also likely to express strong preferences in relation to not working in sectors traditionally associated with men, for example, engineering. Unfortunately these attitudes remain prevalent, with the Girlguiding 2015 Girls' Attitudes survey showing that only 15% of younger girls aged 7-10 chose being an engineer, architect, scientist or lawyer as their future career.
We designed the Be What You Want campaign around the need to support young people to make decisions that were right for them and not based on gender stereotypes. The campaign is not about forcing your daughter to become an engineer, or forcing your son to become a nurse; rather it is about recognising that gender stereotyping may be forcing them not to be what they really want to be.
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.