Young Women's Trust written evidence 

What are the barriers women face in employment and how can these be mitigated?

Entry into employment- the unemployment fallacy and the paradox of girls’ educational success

Two critical public policy narratives continue to limit the focus on the ability of young women to enter the labour market. Firstly, that youth worklessness is a crisis of unemployment amongst young men and that secondly that the apparent educational success of young women demonstrates a reversal in fortunes in terms of gender equality.

Whilst it is true that more young men are unemployed than young women this does not present the full picture of worklessness amongst young people. Analysis of the Labour Force Survey by Young Women’s Trust shows that, amongst 16-24 year olds, there are currently 214,000 young men unemployed compared to 146,000 young women. However, there are also 285,000 young women who are classified as economically inactive, who are not able to start work within 2 weeks and who are therefore not counted amongst the unemployed. The corresponding figure for men is 161,000. This means in total there are almost 60,000 more women aged 16-24 who are out of work compared to men of the same age. The barriers those young women face are often very different to the barriers faced by young men and are discussed below.

It is clear however that a fundamental shift in the way we view youth worklessness is needed, with a focus beyond a narrow definition of unemployment, if we are to address those barriers.

Similarly, whilst girls’ success at all levels of education is something to be celebrated it is not an outcome which demonstrates success in its own right. As highlighted above young women do not transition into the workplace with the same success as young men. Even when they do find work it is more likely to be insecure and low paid. Young Women’s Trust estimates that 780,000 young women are caught in a cycle that has seen them be either unemployed or in low pay jobs for each of the last 10 years. Additionally 79% of those who have only had minimum wage jobs in the last 10 years are women. Based on figures from the Labour Force Survey it is estimated that as many as 1 in 5 of those on zero hours contracts are women aged 16-24. For all age groups 54% of people on zero hours contracts are women. This is indicative of the greater insecurity of employment facing young women, particularly young women.

There is a need for a renewed energy and political focus on ensuring that young people, particularly young women make effective transitions to high quality, secure employment rather than seeing educational success as sufficient in and of itself.

Gender segregation- the need for improved advice, support and positive actio

The labour market continues to be highly segregated at all levels. Women are still much more likely to be found in the service sectors where pay, qualification levels and career

prospects tend to be lower. For example, women comprise 94% of childcare apprentices but just under 4% of engineering apprentices. Most strikingly, these figures have hardly changed in the last decade. In some cases they have even gone backwards. The percentage of female engineering apprentices has actually declined from 4.6% in 2002 to 3.8% in 2014 (the most recent year for which figures are available).

While wome’s progress in male-dominated sectors has stalled, over the past decade there has been a progressive shift in the proportion of male apprentices working in traditionally female-dominated sectors. In childcare, the proportion of male apprentices has risen from 2.9% in 2002 to 5.7% in 2014. The transformation has been more dramatic in health and social care. In 2014 there were 11,350 male apprentices starting in health and social care, over ten times the number in 2002, and increasing as a proportion from 10.7% to 16.2%

Employers need to actively and creatively address the barriers to women applying for jobs in male-dominated sectors. They must be ambitious with their targets because tokenism will fail. Female recruits who are vastly outnumbered by male counterparts are less likely to stay the course of their apprenticeship.

Positive action is needed to bring about a step-change in the numbers of women in these sectors if we are to see meaningful and lasting outcomes.

Action employers could take include: setting targets, reserving places on training courses, providing work experience opportunities, explicitly welcoming applications from women, providing mentors or adapting the language used in job adverts.

Currently many employers say that they are wary about taking such action because they are fearful of the equalities legislation and unsure about the extent they can take action.

Many employers are seeking new guidance from Government about the extent to which they are able to take positive action. A number of organisations have also expressed an interest in introducing exemptions to existing legislation to allow them to ring fence positions for women, Young Women’s Trust is conducting further research to understand the appetite and viability of plans like this.

In order to break the gender segregation and support young women into careers with prospects for progression, there is also an urgent need for high-quality careers advice to help young women consider a wider range of options. In polling carried out for Young Women’s Trust ‘Making Apprenticeships Work for Young Women’ report, just 9% of female apprentices said that careers advice was a factor in making their choice. More than 20% of young men said that the careers advice they received helped them make their decision. This suggests that formal careers advice is particularly failing to support young women to consider a wide range of options.

Since 2012, schools have had a duty to provide independent and impartial careers guidance. This was designed to make the delivery of guidance more responsive to the needs of pupils and to encourage schools to liaise with local employers. Much has been written about the need to improve careers advice in schools and it is important that new initiatives are developed and evaluated. Many young women and organisations we work with have been critical of the advice offered to those under 16 and consider that schools have been given an unrealistic challenge as a result of the changes. In particular young women tell us that they are funnelled into a narrow range of options and are unaware of wider possibilities for employment. Increasing the range of work that women undertake could also help to address ongoing issues with the gender pay gap (see below).

Role models, such as female construction workers and plumbers and male carers and hairdressers, need to be brought into schools, colleges and the media. Young people should be encouraged to try non-traditional jobs through work experience and taster days.

However, it is not just at school where careers advice is essential. 41% of young women who were Not in Education, Employment or Training said that careers advice would be most useful between the ages of 18 and 21. This is a crucial period of transition for many young people, offering a second chance for those who did not have immediate success when they left school or college. Young Women’s Trust’s Scarred for Life report found that the National Careers Service was a valuable resource that could help young people navigate this period but that few young women used the service or even knew it existed

Ongoing careers advice is essential to ensure that young women are able to make informed choices about their career and access support to return to education, training and employment, including apprenticeships. Providers of information, advice and guidance should be trained and encouraged to deliver advice that challenges gender stereotypes.

Furthermore, high quality support should be available at all ages and the National Careers Service broadly advertised.

Support is also crucial when young women reach the workplace, particularly for those starting out in male dominated industries. Focus groups have shown that young women often face difficulties and feel set up to fail because of the lack of support.

Young women, particularly those in in male-dominated sectors should be given access to mentors and additional support.

Recent focus groups carried out by Young Women’s Trust highlighted the role TV and media can have in perpetuating ideas about gender roles and in undermining the validity of women in leadership roles. These representations need to be challenged.

Lack of flexibility- the need for childcare support and flexible working options

Young women are more likely than young men to have caring responsibilities and this drives their increased need for flexible working. Polling for the Young Women’s Trust ‘Clock Turns Back’ report revealed that 25% of young women with caring responsibilities said that their responsibilities meant that they had taken a different job from the one they would have chosen, whereas only 11% of young men with such responsibilities said the same. Young men do not appear to experience the same limitations of career choice resulting from a lack of flexible working.

Young women consistently tell us that the high cost of childcare acts as a barrier to employment and training. Those aged 20-25 who are looking to return to education or training to increase their career prospects in particular tell us they have had to delay studying or seeking work due to unaffordable levels of childcare costs. Whilst the Government plans to make up to 30 hours free childcare per week available (covering 38 weeks of the year) for parents working more than 16 hours a week, there remains considerable uncertainty about the extent to which all childcare providers will be able to meet demand. We are therefore concerned that many young women will be unable to access this support.

Employers should ensure that all positions are flexible wherever possible giving employers the right to request flexible working at the point of job offer.

Government should support the right to flexible working and ensure all young women are able to benefit from then free childcare offer.


Young Women are particularly vulnerable to discrimination because of the low pay and insecure employment which sees them not only unaware of their rights but also fearful of speaking out. For example, Equality and Human Rights Commission research on maternity discrimination highlights that 15% of mothers under 25 felt under pressure to hand in their notice while on maternity leave or as mothers to a young baby. This was surpassed by the 20% who had experienced harassment by their employer as a result of their pregnancy.

Such discrimination is more common than might otherwise be expected because it remains hidden by a culture in which young women feel unable to speak out and in which many employers see such behaviour as acceptable- 70% of employers in the research thought women should declare whether they are pregnant to potential employers.

Young Women’s Trust supports campaigns to make young women more aware of their rights. However, this must be backed up proper enforcement of current legislation and sanctions for employers who break the rules.

How can we reduce the gender pay gap?

The gender pay gap continues to be a key issue for young women. There is some evidence that even the recent decline in the gender pay gap for women in their 20s is largely due to falls in the income of young men rather than any true narrowing of the gap. It is expected that the gender pay gap will expand as wages recover over the coming years. A key part of addressing the gender pay gap is expanding the range of jobs young women undertake so that they have greater opportunities in high paid, in demand sectors such as engineering and technology.

Young Women’s Trust has also welcomed the introduction of legislation to ensure that large employers collect gender pay gap information.

However, if the government is serious about closing the gender pay gap it will need to explore ways of ensuring it captures the experience of over 50% of the working population who are employed by SMEs. One example of this may be to provide access to software that might lighten the workload of SMEs.

We believe that publishing the gender pay gaps at different age bands will help to identify both barriers to progression for young women as well as the impact of

career breaks. This will allow organisations to introduce policies which will support the progression of young women and minimise the wage penalties felt by women taking career breaks.

The high cost of childcare needs to be addressed as well as the lack of flexible working options. These combine to both deter women from returning to employment and diverts them (“bumping down”) to more casual, low skilled, lower paid work where flexibility might be more commonplace. This not only keeps women out of work but r