Our children are born equal. We have the same hopes and dreams for them. However, many parents probably wouldn’t admit that their expectations for their children are different according to their genders.
Much has been made of the gender pay gap in the workplace, and it would seem that the Equal Pay Act of 1970 has had little effect on female careers. The gender pay gap reduces women’s lifetime earnings and also affects their pensions, which is one of the significant causes of poverty in later life for women.
Nationally, the gender pay gap stands at 18.4%, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics. Meanwhile, Financial Times analysis of government data, combined with employee numbers from business information provider DueDil, which covers two-thirds of employers, suggests that 89% of women work for a company with a pay gap that favours men, and half work for a company that pays men at least 9% more.
But what are the causes of men and women having such a different career prognosis?
Gender stereotyping starts young
We invest in our children from an early age, selecting a good school and supporting a range of extracurricular activities. We aim for a broader education than merely academic achievement, but often the choices we make re-enforce gender stereotyping, and this begins when children are young.
Research conducted by Dr Javid Abdelmoneim for the 2017 BBC programme No More Boys and Girls: Can Our Kids Go Gender Free? found that children as young as seven have already absorbed the idea that boys are more important than girls.
And this continues as we get older. Research shows that school career services often encourage girls and boys into traditionally gendered occupations. This means women often work in sectors where wages are, on average, lower than in jobs that are dominated by men. A 2018 publication by the European Commission on equality between men and women found that women in EU countries dominated the occupational categories of shop salespeople, cleaners, personal care workers, pre-primary and primary school teachers, and secretaries. At the same time, the share of women within other occupations, such as engineers or ICT professionals, remained low.
Meanwhile, research conducted by graduate career website Milkround.com reveals that only 17% of women expect to earn £25,000 to £35,000 in their first jobs, compared with almost half of male graduates.
“Nearly 85% of female graduates do not know their own value, which may have a knock-on effect in their future earnings,” says Francesca Parkinson, head of marketing at Milkround.
Men and women have the same challenges in the workplace
However, Jo Cochrane, a partner at workplace coaching firm AGM Transitions, says that when it comes to reaching the top of an organisation, men and women suffer equally from the same challenges, including self-doubt and ‘imposter syndrome’ – although men are less prepared to admit it.
Mrs Cochrane adds that more often men have achieved promotion despite confidence issues, while women let it affect their opportunities.
Cheryl Giovannoni, chief executive of The Girls’ Day School Trust, a charity that runs 25 independent girls’ schools, recognises that women can be backwards in coming forwards. “All too often when it comes to the world of work, women can develop what is sometimes knows as ‘tiara syndrome’,” she told The Sunday Telegraph. “They wait for recognition, whereas men put themselves forward to get what they feel they deserve.”
But these days, men and women (with or without children) are increasingly asking for and negotiating flexible working or starting their own businesses so they can control when and how they work.
To make this worthwhile, we need to invest in our daughters’ education to help counteract the hurdles and ensure they get just as good a footing on the career ladder as their male counterparts.
Seven steps to boost your career prospects – whatever your gender
The people with the most positive career prognosis are those who actively manage their careers. Here are some tips on how to do this.
- Have a career goal. Why are you working at all? Is it to have a good work-life balance or work in a field that you love? Or do you aspire to retiring early, having made a lot of money? Having a career goal is the most important thing you can do to help yourself.
- Study for professional qualifications. Qualifications open doors and broaden your horizons, so negotiate support – including financial help – from your employer. It’s a win-win for both sides and it will help to increase your rate in the job market.
- Make your hobbies count. These days most people can expect to have more than one career. Often these come from your personal interests, including voluntary work.
- Play the long game. Taking a career break to travel or care for family members doesn’t have to mean your career goes on hold.
Use the time to gain other skills, study towards something that may open new doors or get voluntary work experience in new areas that interest you.
- Recognise that the world of work has changed. Many people are moving from employment to self-employment and back again. Book a session with a career coach to help you plan your career and identify all your options.
- Keep a record of your achievements. Corporate appraisal systems record your progress against the company’s objectives and your own career goals, but that stops once you leave. Get into the habit of setting yourself personal and professional targets and monitoring your progress. Share these with others and ask them to hold you to account. It will really set you apart, especially any data you can share with future employers.
- Stay up to date with technology. You will be harder to employ if you aren’t savvy with technology, don’t carry a smartphone or have no awareness of social media.