Effects of Stereotypes on Career Choices

Women and the Québec labour market

Over the past 30 years, more and more women have entered the Québec labour market and taken up positions that have been mainly occupied by men.

Despite such progress, most women continue to be restricted to a more limited range of trades and occupations than men. The jobs that women do are concentrated mostly in office work, nursing, teaching, home care and child care. There are more men than women working in administration as senior managers in the fields of engineering and computer science and as plumbers, electricians and carpenters.

In vocational training (leading to a DVS), nearly 70% of young women are concentrated into two areas of study (Administration, Commerce and Computer Technology; and Health Care), while young men study in a much broader range of fields.

Unfortunately, jobs deemed to be for women are less well paid than those said to be for men. In fact, the data shows that, regardless of level of education, the average salary of women entering the labour market is lower than that of men. And this wage gap persists throughout women’s careers.

In Québec, this reality can be explained by a variety of factors. For example, “women’s jobs” have long been considered as vocations and the skills needed to do them have been perceived as natural character traits. The complexity and social value of these jobs have therefore been minimized, which means that they continue to be less well paid.

The choices that young people make are also explained by various factors: education, tradition, personal ability, occupational role models in their families and among their friends and, especially, very persistent gender stereotypes.

Why people choose careers based on gender stereotypes

From the age of three, children already distinguish between occupations associated with women and men, respectively, as if there really were such things as “women’s jobs” and “men’s jobs.”

Children unwittingly assimilate the gender stereotypes passed on by the people around them and through books and toys. Indeed, children’s books and films, as well as toys, are still disseminating stereotypical ideas about men and women in the labour market: men are associated with manual work, automobiles, business and politics, while women are slotted into the areas of health care, social services, the arts and personal care.

This exposure to a limited range of models influences young people’s opinions about the areas in which they envision themselves working, and this ultimately influences their study and career choices. In 2018, women made up only 24.8% of the workforce in the natural and applied sciences and related professions, 6.3% of workers in transportation and equipment operation, and 2.1% of construction sector workers. On the other hand, women make up 82.2% of health sector workers.

Not only do these stereotypes make it harder to attain economic equality between women and men and have major consequences for young people’s academic success and career choices, but they also prevent young people from seeing themselves in a job associated with the other sex, even if this job completely matches their personal interests.

Career choice tips for young people

When the time comes to choose an area of study, it is important to ask questions in order to be aware of young adults’ motivations and to give them food for thought. What is prompting them to make a particular choice: salary, employee benefits, the type of work, the tasks involved? The relative importance of these criteria varies from person to person and everyone has their own priorities when choosing a trade or occupation. That being said, family-work balance is a serious consideration for young women looking for work.

According to a survey conducted by the Secrétariat à la Condition féminine (SCF) in 2019, women outnumbered men four to one in stating that the lack of work-family balance had influenced their decision to not choose an occupation generally associated with the other gender.

All levels of education, whether they lead to a Diploma of College Studies, a Diploma of Vocational Studies or a university degree, represent potentially interesting choices for your child, regardless of gender. Some young people base their decisions on what seems to be the level of education most valued by society.

Here are a few tips to help young people make informed career choices:

  • Provide examples of women who work in diverse trades and occupations, e.g. as a truck driver, a building mechanics technician, a nurse or an administrative assistant. Young people can thereby imagine themselves in jobs that reflect their own interests and not gender stereotypes.
  • Remind them how important it is to choose a career that you are passionate about. Girls and boys need to know that all choices are permitted and possible.
  • Introduce them to little-known trades and occupations in order to broaden the scope of their search.
  • Suggest concrete activities for your child: job shadowing in a sector that interests them, or volunteer work in an environment that interests them.
  • Encourage them to use the resources available to them (websites, vocational guidance and counselling services in school, program directories, etc.).