Gender roles still massively influence career advice for secondary school students

Secondary schools still pay little attention to breaking through gender role patterns and stereotypical career choices when helping their students choose a profession (career orientation and guidance, or LOB). That is what VHTO Expertise Center for Gender Diversity in Science, Technology, and IT says.

“In the Netherlands, girls have a smaller chance of entering a technical or IT profession than ending up working in healthcare. For boys, this applies the other way around.” In certain professions, this separation is even the highest in the Netherlands of all EU Member States, the center said, referring to previous findings of the Education Council. “That stands in the way of equal opportunities for children and the performance of companies and sectors.”

There can be many reasons why a girl chooses against traditionally male professions. “I actually wanted to study agriculture or metal. But yes, there were only boys there. I didn’t want to be the only girl in the class. That’s why I chose healthcare after all,” one student said in the VHTO piece.

The center also interviewed deans, teachers, and mentors and asked them to complete questionnaires. They said they have few opportunities to promote a less obvious choice. “This concerns both financial resources and, for example, having a good network of companies where students can get acquainted with different professions.” Lack of time for schools and companies can also play a role.

Career choice tests don’t always make things better, either. The researchers see that these tests can confirm prevailing ideas about technical professions and men and women. “That has to do with the wording of questions, with the use of professional names with a male or female connotation and asking the gender at the start of the test.” It can also matter, for example, whether the test asks whether you’re good at or interested in something. In the second case, students much more often answer yes, which broadens their search.

VHTO believes that schools should spend more time helping students with this decision, but also that counselors and mentors should learn to recognize stereotypical ideas in themselves, others, and tests and methods. “The moment that children have not yet chosen a profile or further education is the best time to help them look beyond typical men’s or women’s professions. But we are now letting that opportunity pass completely. In doing so, we are selling ourselves short as a society,” said Sahar Yadegari, director of VHTO.

Thursday is Girls’ Day, the annual day on which VHTO arranges for thousands of girls to visit technical and IT companies in particular.

Reporting by ANP

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