Over a third of girls witness gender discrimination

New report from Young Enterprise examines the growing gender divide in secondary education

Over a third of girls aged 16 to 18 (36%) have witnessed gender discrimination in school, according to research commissioned by Young Enterprise, the charity that empowers and teaches young people how to harness their personal and business skills. 

Conversely, only one in five boys (19%) believe that a gender divide exists today.

The survey of 16-18 year olds also indicated a difference in classroom performance of girls and boys, with 36% of girls believing their gender to be less confident in putting themselves forward for leadership roles and a quarter (24%) stating that boys still dominate classroom discussions.  

This appears to translate into business confidence, with the research revealing a significant disparity between boys and girls around pay expectations for their first job. Indeed, the majority of girls (71%) expect to earn less than £20,000 in their first job, compared to just 52% of boys. In contrast, 28% of boys think they will earn over £25,000 in their first job, with just 13% of girls thinking they will earn over this amount. 

The report is designed to provide solutions and practical recommendations to tackle the growing gender divide in both education and employment in the UK, and examines girls’ and boys’ school experience and future career expectations. It also reflects on the troubling inconsistencies around character training in school, which has been shown to have a positive impact on confidence

As many as 40% of young people believe that boys are more interested in STEM subjects than girls 

The Young Enterprise Youth Unemployment report: A Gender Divide reveals: 

The gender divide

In the classroom, the gender divide persists in the interest of core subjects: as many as 40% of young people believe that boys are more interested in STEM subjects than girls. This perception can deter young women from pursuing these subjects, which have been shown to offer better job prospects with higher salaries.

Character building

Britain’s schools have positively delivered on many areas of character development: 63% of young people feel their school had successfully helped them develop team work skills, and 59% of students think they have developed their communication skills.  

However, less than half of young people (48%) think that their confidence has improved at school. This is echoed by lower numbers of students claiming to have developed their leadership skills and resilience (37% and 34% respectively). This demonstrates that while supporting students to think logically and laterally, schools are failing to deliver wider confidence and resilience to students entering a tough job market.

Fifty-three per cent also stated that they felt the school curriculum focuses too heavily on preparing students for exams instead of the world of work.

Commenting on what more schools can do, 40% of students said they felt that the school curriculum does not go far enough to teach key employment skills such as teamwork and resilience. Fifty-three per cent also stated that they felt the school curriculum focuses too heavily on preparing students for exams instead of the world of work.

More than half of students called on British companies to support young people in developing key employment skills outside of the classroom: 55% believe they should fund entrepreneurial business programmes in schools; 54% would like them to get more involved in student mentoring programmes; and 37% believe they should work with teachers to support their delivery of entrepreneurship and financial education. 

Michael Mercieca, chief executive of Young Enterprise, says: “From girls lacking the confidence to pursue leadership roles and to expect higher starting salaries, to the pervasive belief that STEM topics are more interesting for boys, the gender divide remains rife in our education system. Unless schools and businesses proactively work to change this perspective, we risk a self-fulfilling prophecy of fewer women involved in STEM careers and in more lower-paid jobs.  

“The gender divide has afflicted British businesses and industries for too long. We need stronger character development in schools, and more engagement with female role models and business leaders to encourage all young people – both boys and girls – to have the ambition and confidence to pursue exciting, well-paid careers.”


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