There appears to be a widely-held perception that there are still barriers to access to some apprenticeships for women, such as those in the construction industry. There have definitely been advances since the millennium in the types of employment, training and apprenticeships that it is commonplace for women to take part in.
The stereotypes and stigmas still persist though and it is, therefore, worth looking in a bit more detail at what the situation is, particularly in traditionally male-dominated areas like construction and Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths (STEM).
What are the Advantages of Diversity in the Workplace?
There are considerable advantages to diversity in the workplace and one of these is the preponderance of different perspectives. These can help when it comes to looking at problems and figuring out a way to solve them. People from different backgrounds will look at things differently from each other, having had different foundational experiences and lives.
The principles of equality, diversity and inclusion are important ones and creativity and innovation are big winners when there is a more diverse workplace. This can also lead to increased productivity and better teamwork as well. Once a workplace is more diverse, it also becomes easier to attract people from more diverse backgrounds.
It takes some time for a workplace or apprenticeship to gain a reputation for being something that is good for women to do, but once it does, it will attract more people from that demographic group because word spreads.
Above all, these changes contribute to workplaces being more happy and relaxed places. If people feel that they are welcome then they will enjoy their work more and be more relaxed while they are there, working better as a part of a team and developing useful, transferable skills.
What Can the Numbers Tell us About Apprenticeships for Women?
In 2020/21, there were more women than men entering apprenticeships in England. There were 53.4% women compared to 46.6% men entering apprenticeships and this is to be welcomed. In STEM subjects though, there were around 10% female apprentices in most cases, though with ICT this rose to around 25%.
In the last ten years, there have been more than double the number of women working in the trade professions, which includes plumbers, electricians and construction workers than in the decade previously. This is obviously a considerable advance but there is still much more to be done to encourage more women to enter these areas of work.
There are some companies that are taking matters into their own hands and trying to help to redress the imbalance. As an example of this, Unilever reported that in 2019, 47% of all of their STEM apprentices were women. This kind of action is definitely a step in the right direction toward addressing in-built imbalances.
Reasons for Low Uptake in STEM Apprenticeships for Women
Very Male-Dominated Industries
Being in very male-dominated environments can be off-putting and even intimidating to women as they may feel that they will not be treated with an appropriate level of respect by a predominantly male team. It is especially true that younger women may consider that they will be at greater risk of sexual harassment if they are the sole female in a working environment.
This isn’t something to take lightly, particularly in view of the power imbalances that exist between an apprentice and those who are more senior in a company, so care should be taken to ensure the wellbeing of the apprentices and that action is taken against anyone found to be engaging in harassment.
It is clear that the more women that are added and the closer the ratio resembles 50-50, the more attractive a sector will become for women to get involved and play their full part. This is especially true for women in STEM subjects.
Gendered Teaching in Schools
Many schools in the UK still promote the idea that there are male and female subjects and this can make it difficult to have a background in a subject that interests you if it is considered more in keeping with another gender. There are occasions when situations like this have led to bullying within schools and it is understandable that some pupils at school would wish to avoid the social difficulties of going against peer pressure.
Although apprenticeships are beyond school, many of the young people who are considering apprenticeships will have just left school and those impressions will still be strong in their minds and will undoubtedly have an influence on how they view the world of work going forward. This is likely to have an impact on what they feel able to pursue at an apprenticeship level.
Higher Levels of Self-Doubt
There is research that suggests women will often discount going into STEM-based apprenticeships because they don’t have 100% of the requisite skills already, whereas men will often apply despite only having met around 60% of the requirements.
So much of the discrepancy would seem to be down to the respective confidence levels of male and female applicants. Self-doubt and impostor syndrome have always charted higher in women than in men and much of this is down to societal pressures.
Female apprentices applicants seem to hold themselves to a much higher standard than the male applicants and this can disadvantage them unfairly and prevent them from pursuing careers that they might find both interesting and challenging.
How Can the Gender Disparity in Apprenticeships for Women be Addressed?
The problem is a multi-faceted one and there is no “magic bullet” easy solution. One way is to ensure women are aware of their rights and another would be to have more positive female role models in STEM so that it begins to shake off the image of being very male-dominated.
People need to see themselves being represented to want to do something and to understand at a fundamental level that it is something they can choose to do. It is why there are now more female politicians coming through the ranks.
Positive role models from across the political spectrum and across international boundaries such as Jacinda Arden, the Prime Minister of New Zealand or Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany have proven that these are jobs that women can do well and with distinction and have made it easier for others to follow in their footsteps.