Gender equality seems to be going back not forwards, as a recent edition of the Global Gender Gap Report starkly brought to our attention. Despite the many initiatives by governments and employers around the world (private, public and third sector) and numerous reports on the issue, we are not making progress.
One area where little research has been done is on the attitudes of primary school children to see if stereotypes start at a young age and become ingrained. Two years ago, our charity Education and Employers, commissioned a two-minute film in which a class of eight-year-olds were asked to draw a surgeon, a firefighter and pilot. Sixty-one of the children drew men and five drew women. The film, Redraw the Balance, brought to life the reality of gender stereotyping in primary schools and to date has had more than 35 million views.
In order to get a better understanding of the issue of gender stereotyping, we have in partnership with OECD Education and Skills, UCL Institute of Education, TES and the National Association of Head Teachers undertaken the biggest survey of its kind and asked primary school children aged seven to 11 to draw a picture of the job they want to do when they grow up. To determine the factors influencing career choices, the Drawing the Future survey also asked participants whether they personally knew anyone who did the job, and if not, how they knew about the job; their favourite subject, ethnicity and, via their teachers, social, economic and education data. More than 20,000 entries have been received and international participants include Australia, Belarus, Bangladesh, China, Columbia, Indonesia, Pakistan, Romania, Russia, Switzerland, Uganda and Zambia.
The results are remarkable. The range of jobs children are drawing and the reasons they are giving, such as “I want to be a doctor so I can help sick children in poor countries”, and the drawings themselves, which often show considerable ingenuity and artistic merit, show the hopes and dreams of children, our future. Analysis of the entries suggests the following:
- Gender stereotyping starts at a young age and is a global issue – it was evident in every country;
- Career aspirations are set at the age of seven and change relatively little between then and 18;
- There is a significant mismatch between the career aspirations of children and labour market demands;
- Less than 1% get to meet role models from the world of work visiting their school.
The last finding clearly has worrisome economic implications, particularly in growth sectors of the economy, and echoes the findings of an earlier report we did. Launched by Sir Martin Sorrell, Nothing in Common mapped the career aspirations of 11,000 teenagers against the projected demand for UK employment during a 10-year period – 13.5 million jobs across 25 occupational areas. Statistical analysis of the association between the career aspirations of teenagers and projected labour market demand found the career aspirations of teenagers had nothing in common with the projected labour market demand.
The report also shows that young children are hugely influenced by who they know and what they see, either from the jobs their parents do or their friends’ parents do, or the roles they see on TV or in the media. Perhaps this should come as no surprise to us. However, the question we should be asking ourselves is what can we do about it?
Three years ago we piloted a scheme called Primary Futures which got volunteers from all levels of the world of work, from apprentices to CEOs, and from all sectors – app designers to zoologists – to give an hour of their time to go to their local school to talk informally to kids about their job and career path. The children got to interact with volunteers in small groups, ask questions and get insights into the real world. This simple activity helped raise the children’s aspirations and broaden their horizons, and by making them see the relevance of what they were learning it led to improvement in academic attainment.
Thanks to technology we now have the ability to connect very large numbers of volunteers and schools at minimum cost. Volunteers and schools are connected online by a bespoke matchmaking system powered by Salesforce. The platform is already up and running in the UK and being introduced to Australia and China. It enables us to revolutionize the way people connect, meaning that schools can access a vast database of willing volunteers and children get to meet an amazing range of women and men doing different jobs, people who they would never have otherwise met in the past.
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Children wherever they grow up, whatever school they attend, whatever job their parents have or don’t have, should get to meet women and men doing a variety of jobs – that is the only way we will we ever start making the progress we need on achieving gender equality. You can only believe in what you see.
The OECD’s Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher sums it up brilliantly: “The lack of access to role models and awareness of the different jobs is a particular concern for children from disadvantaged backgrounds. But there is a simple solution that is easy to implement. All children, regardless of their social background, where they live or the jobs their parents do, should have the same chance to meet people doing a wide range of jobs to help them understand the vast opportunities open to them. It is something governments and policy-makers around the world should give much more consideration – it is vital to ensure that countries have the skilled, modern workforce they need.”
And it starts with you giving up an hour of your time to inspire our future generations.