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04 July 2018 -


Research shows gender stereotypes about careers exist in primary school. Managers need to volunteer to challenge aspirations

Guest blogger Nick Chambers

Quite rightly, tackling gender equality has never been higher up the agenda. This year has already seen the publication of data on the gender pay gap and of course, the #MeToo campaign. However, until recently much of the focus has been on issues relating to the workplace and recruitment practices, with some work being done in secondary schools to inspire teenagers about career options. Little attention has been given to what happens in primary schools: does gender stereotyping start at that age and if so, what is the impact of this? 

The Drawing the Future report that our charity Education and Employers launched at Davos in January looked at primary school-aged children’s aspirations and the implications that these can have on gender equality and social mobility. In partnership with TES, the NAHT, UCL Institute of Education and OECD Education and Skills, the biggest survey of its kind asked primary school children aged 7 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 survey also asked participants whether they personally knew anyone who did the job, and if not, how they knew about the job, as well as their favourite subject.




Gender stereotyping about jobs is set from a young age

In all 20 countries, children’s aspirations are often shaped by gender-specific ideas about certain jobs. Boys overwhelmingly aspire to take on roles in traditionally male-dominated sectors and professions. In the UK the most popular job for girls was teacher and boys was sports person.

The patterns of jobs chosen by 7-year-olds are similar to those selected by 17-year-olds

Children’s career aspirations have little in common with projected workforce needs, which has serious implications for the UK’s economy. An earlier survey by Education and Employers mapped the career aspirations of 16-18 year olds against projected labour market demand over the next 10 years. It showed a massive disconnect with young people often aspiring to jobs in one or two sectors where there were relatively few jobs. Very few were interested in other sectors where there were a large number of jobs. The pattern of jobs that 17-18 year olds aspired to is similar to those of younger children and highlights the need to broaden the horizons of children in primary schools. 

Family, TV, radio and film have the biggest influence on children’s choices

Perhaps not surprisingly TV, social media and family are by a long way the most important influencing factors, with less than 1% of children hearing about a job from somebody coming into their school. This is something we need to change. 

There is a need for greater access to career role models from a young age 

The evidence suggests that giving children the chance to meet volunteers from the real world helps them to see the meaning and relevance of the subjects they are studying at school. Embedding experiences in learning and the school curriculum can lead to increased motivation and result in increased educational attainment.

Children in some developing countries often aspire to more professional jobs than those in some affluent countries 

The general trends suggest that in some developing countries children have more practical and high professional ambitions (doctor, scientist, teacher), than in developed countries where aspirations are often formed around celebrity culture, sport and social media. 


Managers have the ability to help challenge these gender stereotypes and raise aspirations of children. Education and Employers is asking people like you to give as little as one hour a year to go into a local primary or secondary schools to chat informally about your job, often in a career-themed speed-networking event. You can also opt to do other activities such as hosting a mock interview, CV workshops or offering work experience. It is also becoming increasingly popular to serve as a school governor and make a difference to local communities. See the video below for inspiration.


Getting involved in challenging career aspirations (and gender stereotypes) couldn’t be simpler. This free online match-making technology makes it easy for you to decide what type of volunteering you want to do and to connect with schools in your area. It will also tell you more about our work and how you can help. Just a little of your time can have such a positive impact on young people’s futures.

Nick Chambers is chief executive of Education and Employers