We ignore gender at our peril when creating a working future for young women
Trade unions have been at the forefront of fighting for women and men to be treated fairly and to avoid discrimination in the workplace.
As Chief Executive of a charity working with and on behalf of young women as they enter employment for the first time I wouldn’t, of course, argue that this isn’t anything but vital. Many of the young women I have spoken to have been exploited by employers, for example by being paid less than the National Minimum Wage.
But to achieve fairness and equality, different and tailored solutions are needed for men and women.
Women are over-represented in part-time and insecure jobs, four out of five of people stuck on low pay for more than ten years are women, caring responsibilities have a disproportionate impact on women and the pay gap is a long way from being closed.
In Young Women’s Trust’s new report, Creating a Working Future for Young Women, we call for a gender-specific response to the crisis of young women’s worklessness.
The report is the result of a year-long Inquiry into young women NEET (those not in education, employment or training). It highlights the fact that many more young women than young men – 428,000 compared to 310,000 – are NEET. They will be NEET for longer – three years compared to two – and the impact will be deeper, forcing many to endure a lifetime of poorly paid, insecure jobs and unemployment.
Successive governments have failed to alter the fact that over the last decade an average of more than 130,000 more women than men have been NEET.
Young women share some challenges with young men, such as very high levels of young unemployment in some localities. But they also have additional and often insurmountable challenges which prevent them furthering their education or entering work.
Creating a Working Future for Young Women contains a number of recommendations, some of which will benefit young men and young women who are NEET – such as creating many more apprenticeships which do not require formal entry criteria (usually five A*-C GCSE’s) and simplifying the access to funding for Further Education at least until age 25 – while some will undoubtedly benefit young women more:
- Training providers of Information, Advice and Guidance to ensure they are encouraging and supporting young women towards a broader range of subjects and careers.
- Extending the provision of free childcare so that young mothers can work and study.
- Gathering more data about young people who are “economically inactive”, of which over two thirds are young women, and work closely with them to address the issues that are making it impossible for them to actively seek work.
These are complex problems that won’t be fixed overnight but they can be addressed; just as long as we take gender into account. To do otherwise means that any attempts will continue to fail, and to fail young women.