Gender attitudes in schools have not changed since the 1960s and girls are still far more likely to be encouraged to do hairdressing, catering and childcare courses, while boys go on to do mechanics and plumbing, according to the equalities watchdog. The women’s rights movement has encouraged women to compete harder and they are now more likely to go to university, get good degrees and become doctors. But girls from working-class backgrounds have been left behind, according to the research, published today by the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
Trevor Phillips, the chair of the commission, said attitudes in some schools were stuck in the mid-20th century. The research, based on interviews with 1,000 14- to 18-year-olds, found white working-class girls were four times as likely as white middle-class girls to work in childcare. Phillips said: “The majority of young women who come from working-class backgrounds believe they will fail. They believe the best they can do is to be a hairdresser or work in one of the three Cs: catering, childcare or cleaning. These are proper careers and I don’t want to do them down. The problem is we have a society where young girls who aren’t from well-off professional families can’t see themselves as successful in anything but a limited range of jobs.
“Within education and careers services, the expectations for these girls are pretty low. Even well-meaning teachers and careers advisers are saying … ‘you could be a very good hairdresser’. They should be saying, ‘why don’t you want to be a doctor or lawyer?’ It’s wrong if girls are told they can only do certain things.” The research found that four times as many boys as girls believed they would go into engineering, with similar percentages of boys over girls choosing building, architecture, trade and IT careers. There were also strong class differentials for boys. White middle-class boys were twice as likely as white working-class boys to become a teacher or police officer.