Women are a key source of untapped potential which we need to harness to boost economic growth in the UK.”

Cilla Snowball, CBE (Chair)

1. Starting out: supporting the choices of girls and young women

Young woman walking outside

Strategic objectives

  • Broaden girls’ aspirations and their understanding of career options by creating more effective partnerships between schools, career development professionals, parents and employers.
  • Utilise the skills and talents of girls and young women to increase the nation’s economic competitiveness in a global market.


  • Improved careers guidance and work experience opportunities which avoid and challenge gender stereotypes and create transferable workplace skills.
  • Young girls supported and encouraged to consider subjects/career choices in areas of projected economic growth and where there are skills shortages, such as science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) areas.


Girls outperform boys in education

Level Number of students - male Number of students - female
Key Stage 2: Level 4 or above in English and maths 150,994 157,557
Five GCSEs grade A*-C, including English and Maths 177,475 192,314
2 A-level passes 164,227 185,643
Obtained first undergraduate degree 2:2 or above 136,445 182,075
Obtained postgraduate degree or equivalent 57,690 81,015

Source: Department for Education 2010/11 and Higher Education Statistics Agency 2010/11

Women graduates are more likely to have chosen subjects which lead to lower earnings

Subject area Median gross weekly earnings of graduates Gender percentage - women Gender percentage - men
Medicine and dentistry £865 52% 48%
Engineering and technologies £769 86% 14%
Architecture, building and planning £712 26% 74%
Maths and computer science £673 71% 29%
Physical sciences £646 30% 70%
Law £635 49% 51%
Business and administrative £615 56% 44%
Social sciences £577 55% 45%
Linguistics and classics £577 72% 28%
Education £577 72% 28%
Biological sciences, veterinary and agriculture £538 49% 51%
Historical and philosophical £481 59% 41%
Subjects aligned to medicine £462 14% 86%
Creative arts and design £462 61% 39%
Mass communications and documentation £423 43% 57%
Languages and literature £418 38% 62%

Source: Labour Force Survey 2012

Fewer women (%) are enrolled in STEM subjects at university

Subject Women
Maths and computer science 22%
Technologies 18%
Engineering 13%
Architecture, building and planning 32%
Physical sciences 40%

Source: UCAS 2011/12, accepted places



1. Careers advice

We have found strong evidence that careers provision ranges from very good to inconsistent, fragmented and at times inadequate. Schools are now required to secure access to independent and impartial careers guidance from an external source. However, pupils often turn to their subject teachers as a primary source of advice, and they may, understandably, lack accessible, up-to-date information and guidance, or understanding of local jobs markets and skills shortages.

Go Windsor Girls School case study

Many of our stakeholders believe that schools need more help from business and partner organisations in discharging their duty to provide careers guidance. The National Careers Council supports the need for improved careers advisory content within teacher training courses, and Ofsted has also highlighted the need to “strengthen the knowledge and understanding of staff about the wide range of progression routes available so that girls and young women can make informed choices”22. Many businesses already champion this. We have found evidence of existing good practice in partnerships between schools and business, and this should be more widespread and consistent.

Go to FDM case study

What Government should do

  • We support the recommendation of the National Careers Council that a culture change is needed in the careers provision for young people and adults. Such a change can only be brought about by business, careers professionals, schools, and the government working together.
  • We also look forward to Ofsted’s report on the review of careers guidance which will be published shortly. We strongly recommend that the Government reports on how it plans to implement these findings, including how it will actively engage with industry and business to improve careers guidance and deliver results.
  • The Department for Education should work with stakeholders to capture data, on a regular basis, that shows the outcomes and destinations of those leaving secondary school, similar to the data routinely gathered by universities. This should go beyond the first 3-4 years after leaving, up to and including age 26.

What business should do

  • Work more closely with schools (both primary and secondary), colleges and universities to ensure that children better understand the world of work and the career options open to them, through programmes such as Inspiring the Future, and the model provided by the Business in the Community – Business Class Programme.
  • Employers should commit to ensuring their graduates, trainees and apprentices visit schools and talk with students and staff about their jobs. Carefully selected younger employees can provide more accessible and relatable role models for young people and also deliver more accessible, first hand, insights about different careers. Investing in presentation skills training or coaching for these staff can be useful to their own professional development.

2. Supporting girls and parents with better information and resources

Students develop perceptions of how useful a subject may be by the way in which schools link them to specific careers, by the career value ascribed to a subject by advisors and by family members. We want to empower students to make their own informed choices about what subjects, courses or qualifications will be most useful to them in terms of suitability, earning potential, and opportunities for development and progression. There are several excellent examples of initiatives designed to broaden aspirations of girls and boys such as the Speakers 4 Schools Programme, which we would encourage schools to take advantage of. We have found that parents and carers are often overlooked in how they can influence and support their sons and daughters, or children in their care, to make these important decisions. There is a lack of advice and signposting to ensure they are able to give the right advice to their children about career opportunities. There is a particular shortage of advice and support for parents to help girls make non-traditional choices.

What Government should do

  • Parents should have access to resources to help them provide advice and guidance to their children. We recommend that the Government work with key stakeholders to develop a broad communications campaign aimed at parents which should include a ‘Parent Pack’ to provide guidance on what subject choices their children will make and when, how those choices may translate into career opportunities, and how to broaden children’s horizons and challenge gender expectations. This pack should be freely accessible online through the National Careers Service and popular websites such as Mumsnet and Netmums, and distributed via Parentmail.

What business should do

  • We recommend online resources and careers sites such as the National Careers Service, plotr and others which are aimed at young men and women, work with their partners and businesses to stress the importance of breaking down gender stereotypes. We suggest that the content placed on their websites challenges gender stereotypes and promotes gender equality. This will help open up careers and courses to all, promoting equality and inclusion in the workplace.

3. Work experience and developing workplace skills

The important work of the Education and Employers Taskforce has identified a number of barriers in the area of work placements. Work experience often fails to deliver its potential in challenging and stretching young people’s career horizons and improving career decision-making. Young people and their parents are frequently left to find their own work experience opportunities and these are often insufficiently challenging and may reinforce gendered expectations. Businesses often express concern about school leavers’ preparedness for work, but they frequently avoid engaging with work experience as they (and schools) find it complex to organise and costly to deliver. There are a number of schemes that support employers to provide useful work experience, such as Work Inspiration, run by Business in the Community. This is a national employer led campaign that targets 14-19 year olds in full-time education to help make their first experience of the world of work more meaningful and inspiring. This is an interesting approach that has a significant impact.

What Government should do

  • Actively promote work experience that works for all participants. By providing several short (1-2 day) modules of high quality experience, rather than the protracted fortnight that is currently the norm, the process can be made more manageable. Further consideration should be given to developing job shadowing as part of this change.
  • Evaluate the impact of the new Traineeships (due to be introduced in September 2013) and gather business opinion as to whether they are delivering the right workplace skills. Upon completion of a Traineeship, students should receive a guaranteed interview and reference for use in future job-hunting.
  • Deliver a pilot scheme through schools to teach transferable workplace skills following on from the evaluation and best practice gathered from Traineeships (as above); completion of this should be marked with a statement or certificate for use in future job-hunting.

What business should do

  • To support employers in delivering a higher quality and volume of work experience placements and also apprenticeships, we recommend that sectoral bodies and the National Apprenticeship Service produce simplification guides for employers on both work experience and apprenticeships. This should cover issues such as Health and Safety, what forms need to be completed and any associated costs and benefits [Some example include the Chartered Insurance Institute’s good practice guide for internships and also their guide to getting started with apprenticeships]23. Employers should also utilise the resources on the National Apprenticeship Service website, which details information on apprenticeships, the business benefits and how to become involved.
  • Develop additional effective partnerships between local businesses and schools with the aim of raising aspirations and developing workplace skills via work experience, local mentors and extra-curricular activities. These partnerships should focus on:
    • Identifying female role models who are persuasive and relatable, and getting them into schools
    • Helping teachers to access information about the local and national labour market and its skills needs, and offering work placements or time in business to help teachers develop their understanding of business skills and business needs
    • Working in stronger partnerships to develop high quality work experience opportunities
    • Recruiting volunteers from business to take part in Inspiring the Future and STEMNET’s Ambassadors Programme and similar activities.

4. Supporting more girls into STEM careers

We recognise and applaud the activity that is already underway by the Government and other bodies to attract more girls into STEM sectors. However, progress remains slow, with efforts being delivered separately by different agencies. Given the projected growth in these sectors and the skills shortages in these areas, greater effort should be made to engage the interest of those young women and girls – and the best place to start is to get more girls choosing these subjects at school.

We welcome business-led education engagement programmes such as that provided by Siemens, which has recently launched an education portal that provides teachers, students and parents with access to a central hub of information explicitly designed to encourage young people to study engineering-related subjects. The site offers interactive educational material across STEM subjects, ranging from interactive learning content designed for classroom application to 3D games based on ground breaking technologies. Siemens also supports education through curriculum-related teacher resources, access to free Computer Aided Design (CAD) software, an employee volunteering programme that provides lesson support in schools, and an immersive exhibition centre called “The Crystal”.

Go to P&G case study

We are also aware that businesses have in the past reported difficulties in gaining access to schools for various reasons. We hope that our recommendations will encourage better engagement between all parties.

What Government should do

  • Continue to work closely with sectoral bodies such as The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering and establish a more cohesive approach to encouraging girls into STEM subjects and STEM careers. This should pull together existing schemes under one badge, be aimed at both teachers and girls, and include:
    • encouraging more business leaders to become STEM Ambassadors;
    • promoting best practice from schools; and,
    • engaging with and getting support from business and schools.
    • This approach could be spearheaded by an independent business champion.
  • We agree with the recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee on Science and Technology that Government should use new technologies to promote STEM careers and subject choices, for example by commissioning a STEM careers app [Higher Education in STEM Subjects, November 2012]. This should dispel myths about STEM subjects, highlight the benefits of studying STEM, and identify influential women in STEM careers.

What business should do

  • There are a plethora of initiatives in this area, delivered by organisations including The Royal Society, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the WISE campaign. We recommend that these stakeholders and businesses work alongside the Government to enable a more cohesive STEM campaign, targeted at teachers and at girls and young women.
  • As part of this, more businesses leaders should become STEM Ambassadors – particularly those who have successfully used their STEM qualifications within the corporate sector or to start their own businesses. We recommend that businesses make better use of STEMNET’s brokerage services, which works to ensure all schools and colleges can run programmes to increase the quantity and quality of students moving into STEM education and training.
Next: 2. Getting on