Inclusive careers education
. . . and why it matters
Kyra Kellawan and Andreu Gual i Falco ask schools to challenge attitudes that both undermine student aspiration and lead to an unbalanced workforce.
Talking about the world of work
As self-confessed career explorers (read:nerds) we love being with young people, as they find their passion and move towards the changing world of work. We listen as they talk about their aspirations, and it’s a real pleasure to see them identify their own ikigai, or reason to be. However, it is impossible not to notice some quite fixed trends shaping what students talk about when they describe what they intend to do after their studies. In the many conversations we’ve had with high school students over the years there has been a clear trend about who asks about the Arts and Communications programs and who asks about the AI and Machine Learning ones. We’re sure you can guess what that gender correlation might be.
What shapes student aspiration?
This made us start to wonder: what kind of cultural and social bias decides what careers are of interest to students, and where does it come from? The second question is even more important: how do we work to eradicate any harmful bias, the kind that leads to women making up only 24% of workers in technology, and only 27% of keynote speakers at tech conferences? Or the kind that means that boys are half as likely to take Art at a high school level?[i] And, finally, what does gendered career education mean for representation and diversity in the workplace, and why should we care?
Diversifying career choice
The fact is, diversity in career choice is becoming increasingly critical as work is changing. Let’s suppose for a moment that in the next decade, 60% of all jobs are going to be new roles that we cannot imagine yet, and then let’s overlay that with research gathered by LinkedIn that 85% of all jobs are filled via networking. An important question arises as we consider the importance of diversity in hiring pipelines:
If talent is evenly distributed across populations then to be best prepared for new and emerging roles, do we need to cast the net more widely in order to fill them effectively?
Effects of ‘gender segregation’
Looking at a 2019 study from the US that examined the role gender plays in declarations of college major, we can begin to understand the root of an increasingly pressing problem for employers. Students are unevenly distributed in terms of subject choice, which leads to narrowed hiring pipelines in key industries. We may already be familiar with the premise that fewer women major in STEM or doctoral track pre-medicine/pre-dentistry majors at college, but the smaller number of men choosing communications or arts majors is also a factor in what has been named “gender segregation of postsecondary fields of study”[ii]
It’s not just a gender gap we should note, but a racial one as well. Research from the University of Maryland showed that female students, as well as Black and Hispanic students were more likely to change major, especially in STEM fields. We also see discrepancies in terms of subject choice, with Black and Minority Ethnic students in the UK choosing professional pathways (pharmacy, medicine, law and economics) in large numbers over the humanities, arts or natural sciences.
Is change possible?
There are some more encouraging figures from recent Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) data in the UK. Of the students studying science-related courses at university between 2017/2018, the gender balance is now nearly equal. 49% of students were female and 51% were male, revealing that an increase in female students taking A-level science seems to be translating to higher education. Last summer, 50.3% of Core Science students were females, overtaking males for the first time. This is thanks to numerous campaigns from the UK’s exam boards, schools, universities, recruitment companies and businesses that have worked towards addressing the gender imbalance in STEM courses. So, we know change is possible, and the translation into the workforce is on its way, so long as hiring managers and HR staff ensure older bias doesn’t creep into recruitment for new roles in emerging industries.
The role educators can play
It’s already well documented that systemic bias costs money and loses talent from the workforce. and we still have a way to go before we can ensure that networking in tech as a woman paves the way to as many job opportunities as for men, or that an arts education is as respected and appreciated for black male applicants as it is for white females. In order to make progress, we, as educators have a real responsibility to diversify aspiration, help all students learn how to network and adapt to the many different jobs they will have over their lifetimes.
This work must begin at school, long before university degree and career choices are sealed. We can already see the positive effects of coordinated education programming that deconstructs traditional narratives about who can be what. Implementing a “see it to be it” approach can change students’ opinions, aspirations and eventual career destinations. Arguably, this work must begin in primary school education, and although career stereotyping in the homes and lives of children outside of our classrooms are an important factor, organisations such as the Global Equality Collective and the wealth of resources found on hashtags such as #genderedcheese on twitter (yes, apparently even the job of cheese-making is gendered by children early on) are starting to create and share resources designed to help educators connect and collaborate to start to challenge existing or dominant narratives.
With 15 years’ experience of teaching and careers counseling in university admissions and international schools, Kyra Kellawan co-leads the Spain chapter of WomenEd to increase representation of female leaders in education, and hosts The PilotEd Podcast, an exploration of innovative educators around the globe.
Edupreneur and social innovator, Andreu Gual i Falco is the co-founder of Corkscrew and Experienceships, which aims to support learners of all ages in their career exploration journey. He also facilitates learning spaces for entrepreneurs, life scientists and professional chefs.
Find out more about how Kyra and Andreu support careers education, see https://www.xperienceships.com/
[i] [i] M. Hetherington, British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Heriot-Watt University, Edinburgh, September 2008
[ii] (Beutel, Burge, & Borden, 2019.)