Alyson Laird is a PhD research student at Glasgow Caledonian University. She works within the WiSE Research Centre which seeks to promote and make visible women’s contribution to Scotland’s economy. Her PhD research focuses on gender segregation in the Modern Apprenticeship programme in Scotland.
Alyson visited our Kilwinning Campus recently to have a chat about our approach to tackling gender imbalance in courses and apprenticeships. We invited Alyson to share the aims of her research with us in our blog.
I haven’t always been passionate about gender equality and feminism, but an inspiring lecturer at GCU encouraged me to think differently about the economy and society we live in. Since then, I have had a desire to be part of the change needed to tackle inequalities in our society, specifically gender inequalities.
My research focuses around the Modern Apprenticeship programme, and more specifically the gender segregation which exists within the programme. Gender segregation is where women and men are more likely to be found in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. For example, less than 2% of those participating in construction and related apprenticeship frameworks are women – that’s only 77 out of over 5,000 participants! My research asks why this is the case and what is being done to change it.
Is it a problem?
This is a question I hear often. Maybe girls just want to work in childcare and hairdressing and boys want to work on building sites and shipyards? These are statements I hear when I discuss my research with people who aren’t aware of the extent of the problem.
Yes, it is a problem.
It’s a problem because the youngest members of our society are taught from a very early age that there are jobs for girls and jobs for boys. Arguably, things are changing – schools, for instance, are making massive changes in this area. You only have to watch kids’ TV for an afternoon or go into a toy shop to notice that gender stereotyping is everywhere. Girls play with dolls and dress up as princesses. Boys play with Lego and pretend to be superheroes. The world around children at the earliest ages can have an impact on the careers they decide to embark on later on.
It’s a problem because we have a gender pay gap, a situation where women in society are being paid less than men in society and much of this is to do with women and men being in jobs stereotypically associated with their gender. The jobs which women are most visible in are those which typically offer lower pay and are often under-valued in our society. Think of the important work that social care workers do? Why are they not being paid a better wage for the job they do, a job that requires a unique set of skills and recognised qualifications?
I don’t think it is just a case of girls wanting to do stereotypical women’s jobs and boys wanting to do stereotypical men’s jobs. I think there are structural and cultural constraints which influence the choices young people make, and hinder accessibility to certain sectors. And I think the Modern Apprenticeship programme has a massive role to play in helping to eliminate existing stereotypes.
What will I do?
There are over 25,000 young people starting apprenticeships every year in Scotland. The most popular apprenticeships are those within Construction & Related frameworks and those within Health & Social Care frameworks. These occupational groups are also the most gender segregated.
My research is looking at both – challenging what is being done to get more women into construction and addressing the low esteem within health & social care frameworks. I am doing this by firstly talking to as many stakeholders as possible. So, I am speaking to places like Ayrshire College who have been proactive in engaging with both sides of the issue through events like ThisAyrshireGirlCan and ThisManCares. The contribution from stakeholders is valuable, it allows me to explore what is going on in the Modern Apprenticeship programme and enhances my understanding of who does what in terms of funding and recruitment for example.
Secondly, I will chat with Modern Apprentices themselves – firstly through a survey and then through interviews. It is important that the voice of apprentices themselves comes through strongly within this research. The story the apprentices tell about their journey to do a Modern Apprenticeship, who influenced them, what challenges they faced, why they chose that particular route, is one of the most important parts of my research. It tells the real story of what’s going on and how things could be improved from people who have lived the experience.
Finally, I will engage with employers, asking them what they are doing to support apprentices and how they can play a role in improving gender equality within the programme.
Why am I doing this?
Because I want to see change.
The changes happening are too slow, the figures over the last ten years have hardly changed. I wonder why with all the efforts to make young people aware of what’s out there and with all the events which take place to encourage non-traditional careers, what has been missed? Hopefully my research will start to try and answer this question and I can help contribute to positive change for women in our society.
If you would like more information about my research please contact me at:
Alyson.Laird@gcu.ac.uk or follow my Twitter feed @AlysonLaird