Gender stereotyping starts the day you’re born – what are unions doing to tackle occupational segregation?

Gender stereotyping starts from the day you are born, shaping the development of children’s ideas about what girls and boys should be.

Children are influenced by the adults in their lives, what they do in the home as well as their job forms. Toys and play are also organised along rigid gender lines with boys’ toys being active and exciting and girls’ toys focused on caring and beauty roles.

It’s no wonder by the age of 16 young people have fixed ideas about career choices and for many young women that will mean routes into the traditional female roles of the 5 C’s- cleaning, catering, clerical, cashiering and childcare. 

Making the choice to be a train driver, fire fighter or professional footballer for a young woman is rare, probably because they have never met one! Indeed, there are a whole host of professions including construction, engineering and IT that struggle to attract women. 

Thankfully some employers recognise this and have started to make attempts to tackle it but is it enough? It’s all very well actively trying to recruit more women into male-dominated occupations but there is also a responsibility to ensure workplace cultures don’t set them up to fail before they have even started.

Trade unions can play a part in the campaign against occupational segregation. We have the ability to hold the industries we operate in, and the employers we work with, to account, to push for more inclusive recruitment practices, to demand workplaces that are welcoming to all, and can use our members to showcase and promote these jobs as viable career choices for women.

ASLEF has long highlighted the lack of female train drivers. The publication of the On Track with Diversity: 2019 Edition in June this year once again shines a spotlight on train and freight operating companies’ lack of diversity in recruitment and challenges them to do better.

At TUC Congress we are hosting a fringe with the FBU and PFA, which will provide an opportunity to hear from a female train driver, fire fighter and professional footballer about their experiences of male dominated industries, as well as the chance to question if as trade unionists we are doing enough to fight these barriers that still exist. 

In 2019 it’s time we handed Thomas the Tank Engine to little girls and moved away from gender expectations. 

The fringe event, Is it still a man’s world? is at TUC Congress today, 12.45pm in The Restaurant. Lunch and refreshments will be provided.

  • Deborah Reay is chair of ASLEF Women’s Representative Committee

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