Since the launch of its Be What You Want campaign in 2011, Close the Gap has visited a number of primary and secondary schools in Scotland to deliver sessions on the gender pay gap. Sessions were based on the activities we developed as part of the campaign, which aims to give pupils an understanding of the gender pay gap and its causes.
One activity asks pupils to consider why some jobs are seen as ‘women's work' and others as ‘men's work', particularly if the jobs require the same or similar skills. We have had lively discussions with pupils on the different skills required to be a chef and a cook, with many naming celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver as examples of the ‘male' chef and the school dinner ladies as examples of the ‘female' cook'. However, when comparing the list of skills for both, pupils realise that chefs and cooks are often doing the same work.
An issue that has come up in every session is the undervaluing of nurses. Pupils are asked to match job titles with average salaries, and the percentage of women who do that job. Every session, pupils have given nurses a salary that is more than double what they are paid in reality. When asked about this, pupils invariably argued for the higher salary because nurses work beside doctors and they saved people's lives as well.
The undervaluing of classroom assistants, 98 per cent of whom are women, is also discussed. Pupils were very surprised to learn that classroom assistants, who were sometimes present in the session, were only paid on average around £8000, less than the average salary of a refuse collector.
Some of the jobs were unfamiliar to the pupils. For example, the majority of pupils were unsure what an engineer does and unaware of the different types of engineering available as a career choice. This ties in with the views of bodies representing the engineering sectors which have called for greater awareness-raising and education in schools about engineering as a profession.
It was concerning to see that some pupils thought that women's jobs should not be kept for them while they are on maternity leave because they have chosen to have children and so their job should be given to someone else. It was, however, encouraging to see these attitudes being challenged by other pupils who rightly pointed out that this was very unfair to women.
At the end of the sessions, the pupils are asked what they want to do when they leave school. For older pupils this has included a journalist, a lawyer, a doctor, and an entrepreneur, while the younger pupils were a bit more imaginative and listed an acrobat, a reptile keeper and an FBI agent as potential careers.
Phase two of the campaign, which will be launched in autumn 2012, will focus on three local authority areas across Scotland. Primary and secondary schools in each area will have the opportunity to pilot the materials with pupils and support the development of a Be What You Want continuing professional development programme for teachers which will highlight the issue of occupational segregation.