Parents ‘see construction as male industry’, says study

Image courtesy of Women Into Construction

Parents are seven times more likely to picture their sons working in construction than their daughters, prompting fears that gender stereotypes are limiting children’s potential.

That’s the finding of a report by the Commission on Gender Stereotypes in Early Childhood, which was established by gender equality campaigning charity, the Fawcett Society.

The report, entitled Unlimited Potential, sets out how gender expectations limit children, causing problems such as lower self-esteem in girls and poorer reading skills in boys.

It also found that stereotypes contribute towards the mental health crisis among children and young people and are at the root of higher male suicide rates, as well as violence against women and girls.

It also warned that stereotyped assumptions also limit career choices, contributing to the gender pay gap.

Surveying parents, the Commission found that the majority of parents recognised there was a problem but nonetheless, seven times as many could see their sons working in construction (22%), compared to just 3% for their daughters. Almost three times as many could see their daughters in nursing or care work (22%), compared to 8% in relation to their sons.

The report is the culmination of an 18-month process of research and evidence gathering, co-chaired by Prof Becky Francis, now chief executive of the Education Endowment Foundation, and David Lammy MP, in his capacity as former chair of the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on fatherhood.

The report also found that there was support for change, with 65% of education practitioners believing that parents would be supportive if they challenged gender stereotypes in their work.

The Commissioners called on the Department for Education to make challenging gender stereotypes a priority all the way through teaching and childcare – from initial training, to the curriculum, to inspection frameworks. They asked to see more support for parents to help them challenge gender stereotyping.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said: “Gender stereotyping is everywhere and causes serious, long-lasting harm – that’s the clear message from the research for the Commission. From “boys will be boys” attitudes in nursery or school, to jobs for boys and jobs for girls views among some parents, these stereotypes are deeply embedded and they last a lifetime.”

Professor Becky Francis, Commission co-chair, said: “What every parent hopes for their child, and what educators hope for children in their class, is that they will be free to achieve their potential – yet what the evidence shows is that we still limit our children based on harmful, tired gender stereotypes.

“That adds up to real harm. From boys’ underachievement in reading, to the gender pay gap, the evidence is clear that the stereotypes we impart in early childhood cause significant damage to our children.

“But this is also a message of hope. If government, companies, educators and parents take action, we can challenge stereotypes and change lives, making it possible for our children to live with fewer limitations.”

To view the full report, click here.

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  1. To quote Jordan Peterson

    “Men and women won’t sort themselves into the same categories if you leave them alone to do it of their own accord. We’ve already seen that in Scandinavia. It’s 20 to one female nurses to male… and approximately the same male engineers to female engineers,”

    “That’s a consequence of the free choice of men and women in the societies that have gone farther than any other societies to make gender equality the purpose of the law. Those are in ineradicable differences. You can eradicate them with tremendous social pressure and tyranny. But if you leave men and women to make their own choices you will not get equal outcome.”

  2. There was an excellent article by some engineers (female) from Arup last year in the Telegraph on this subject which made two relevant points. Firstly, construction is one of the default choices proposed to boys if they have no strong career preference, whereas for girls it is not. This leads to a cohort of males in construction of variable motivation, and a smaller cohort of females with typically higher motivation as they are more likely to have purposefully sought out their construction career. Second, the A-level maths is the gateway subject to STEM at post-18, which means if you can’t enthuse girls about maths in their primary and early secondary school life, they are all but lost to construction.

    Exam board and Govt figures for 2019 on post-16 maths choices, girls make up around 33% of the A-level maths cohort and 23% A-level further maths cohort. Female uptake of maths post-16 has declined from 2015 through to 2019. Female representation in A-level physics and computer science cohorts is even worse, 19% and 11% respectively.

  3. Well Done. I have been an advocate to bring women into the construction Industry, I really feel it’s beneficial to have women in the industry especially with the shortage of skilled labour here. I would love to see more women take up these positions, for cabinet making, fibrous etc as these trades will die out.

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