by Simon Lythgoe
Gender discrepancy in the workplace has been a hot topic in recent years. It’s often represented by looking at the gender split in the boardrooms across the UK, which is currently less than 20% female. This woeful statistic indicates how difficult it is for women to get to the top of a profession, whether as a result of a lack of support for the maternity process or the range of other obstacles that potentially exist. However, studies have found that it’s not just in the workplace where there is a gender imbalance – in fact, this is present in the later stages of education too.
Gender and higher education
A wealth of research has been carried out into the way that men and women are working across various employment sectors. However, it’s only recently that attention has begun to turn to the way that gender is distributed in higher education. Of all the subjects studied there is only one - Business and Administrative Studies – where the balance of genders is about equal. Across most others there are significant disparities, for example, only 27,000 women are studying Engineering and Technology compared to more than 134,000 men. Of the 93,210 Computer Science students in the UK, just 16,000 are female. There are gender disparities that work the other way too – for example, of the 87,000 students studying law 53,545 are women.
Following from school to workplace
Given the study statistics mentioned above it’s no surprise that these sectors reflect the same kinds of imbalances. For example, the number of female IT specialists is incredibly low despite this being one of the biggest growth areas for employment. Only 17% of IT specialists are female, perhaps because this is traditionally considered a very male profession. In contrast, 88% of nurses are female, which aligns with the idea that nurses are usually women.
A much wider issue
It’s not just the UK that has a problem in terms of gender discrepancy in both education and the workplace. Even in countries like Norway that are considered to be further ahead in equality terms, the nation’s boardrooms are only 39% female. And there are some parts of the world where the situation is much worse. For example, women who have corporate aspirations in Russia are highly likely to be put off by boardrooms that are 92% male. In Hungary, this figure rises to 95%.
Reinforcing the gender pay gap
Ultimately, gender disparities in education end up reinforcing those in the workplace which, in turn, support an ongoing gender pay gap. In an industry such as financial services, for example, the gender pay gap is 38% and in the consumer sector it is 49%.
Given the wealth of imbalance that exists when it comes to the numbers of men and women studying in order to create opportunities for careers, this is still an area that needs a lot of work. If a society of genuinely equal opportunities is to be created then the gender pay gap needs to be closed.