Any other business

The UK's young women have more career doubts than male counterparts

8 min read

10 August 2015

Former deputy editor

Some 69 per cent of young people worry about career opportunities after they've completed exams, but it's young women who have more concerns about their futures – especially where STEM is involved.

The report follows a PwC study that found the financial sector has a bad reputation among young women, with many believing they can’t progress to the top of the male-dominated industry. As such, lots are leaving for new fields while others are avoiding it entirely.

On the back of this, British Gas has found that 48 per cent of young women aged 15 to 22 have never considered a career in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sectors.

With that in mind, just four per cent of the applicants for British Gas’ technical and engineering apprenticeship schemes in 2014 were women, which has resulted in the company introducing more female-centric marketing methods.

The High Speed 2 Railway project is also on a similar path and marked National Women in Engineering Day in June by visiting a school with female ambassadors to discuss the opportunities STEM can provide young girls.

The British Gas study discovered that 30 per cent of young women are snubbing STEM because they claim to have a lack of knowledge about it, while 13 per cent believe that the sector is sexist. 

Worryingly, nine per cent think STEM is better suited to men and eight per cent said there aren’t any enough role models in the space.

Amanda White is one individual that those in doubt can look to. At Real Business’ First Women Awards 2015, the engineer took home the award for Young Achiever, seeing off competition from rivals in sectors including finance, tech and the sharing economy.

Having previously worked at HS2, White is now the head of rail at Transport for Greater Manchester and is keen to dispel negative assumptions that women may have about the sector.

“I would say that engineering is stereotyped in the same way people look at a girl and expect them to be a hairdresser,” she said. “But the skills learned in engineering require using logic, structured approaches, facts, details and numbers, and translating that into solutions.

“The thought process can be applied to any profession and a good portion of people go into projects, finance and investment banking. I would say don’t judge on what you think it will be, try it and see where the skills can take you.”

Read more on women in business:

On the whole, 69 per cent of young people aged 15 to 22 worry about not finding a job after completing exams, but this spikes to 73 per cent for young women. Meanwhile, males expect to earn an average of £33,251 before they turn 30, but this falls to £29,880 for females.

The salary expectations are interesting and support the belief women have that the gender pay gap will not be closed, regardless of what prime minister David Cameron hopes to achieve.

“Women are more likely to be in low-paid jobs such as ‘the five Cs’ – clerical, catering, caring, cashiering and cleaning – leaving them trapped in a cycle of in-work poverty that many never escape,” said Kathryn Nawrockyi, gender equality director, Business in the Community.

On the whole, however, today’s youths are convinced their parents’ generation had it easier in the workplace. 49 per cent think it’s harder to find a good job, while 41 per cent think it’s tougher to find a job with good salary and a third noted it was more difficult to find a job with good opportunities.

Parents are, in some ways, responsible for the attitudes their children have when it comes to career choices, found the study. Some 35 per cent of parents said they offered different advice to their kids based on gender – as a result, 22 per cent of boys are advised to do an apprenticeship compared to 16 per cent of girls.

Claire Miles, managing director for HomeCare at British Gas, said: “There are some fantastic opportunities for both women and men in these sectors, so I’m concerned to hear that so many young women are put off by careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

“With boys already taking advantage of the apprenticeship opportunities available, I would encourage girls to think about engineering. Apprenticeships are a great way into an organisation, and at British Gas they allow you to earn while you learn and develop skills for life.”

On 6 August we reported that the CEO and co-founder of Twizoo, Madeline Parra, is often mistaken for the marketing person. The company she was instrumental in creating, which was named in Real Business’ Everline Future 50, runs as an app built around restaurant discovery.

The STEM-accomplished entrepreneur, who has a maths degree, said: “They [VCs] almost just assume that you aren’t technical and you don’t know much about the business.

“There have been scenarios where the first thing the VC would ask me is why my nails were painted pink. Is it relevant to them investing in Twizoo?”

The feature became quite topical and many thoughts were shared on Twitter – if you’d like to join the discussion, follow us at @Real_Business.