Margaret Thatcher

Despite FTSE 100 firms reaching Lord Davies’ target of women of boards, new research from O2 reveals a significant number of young people hold very different views of women in senior roles. In fact, more than one in four (28%) young people believe women are not suitable to take on the biggest job of all: the UK Prime Minister.

The study of 2,000 young people aged 4-18 highlights how deeply engrained and outdated stereotypes are still limiting the ambitions of the next generation. And they exist from a young age. When asked to choose which careers they believe are better suited to women, children aged between four and 10 favoured the healthcare and beauty sectors.

Almost two thirds (64%) of those surveyed said women are better suited to careers as nurses, nearly four out of five (79%) said nannies, and 63% said hairdressers.

In stark contrast, almost half (49%) of those aged four-10 said men said men are better suited to working as engineers, and scientists (29%).

Although the new national computing curriculum has excited many boys and girls about possibilities of technology, the research showed that almost half of 11-18 years olds (47%) still believe that the tech industry is better suited to men, whilst only 4% feel the sector best suits women.

Ann Pickering, O2’s HR Director, said: “It’s worrying to see just how deeply engrained gender stereotypes still are, with many young people still impacted by the archaic ideals that may have held back their parents or grandparents from rewarding roles. Working in the tech sector, I see the impact that stereotyping has on our industry every day. But it’s not just male-dominated industries which are struggling. Boys are just as susceptible to outdated ideas about which jobs are appropriate for them.

“A diverse workforce is a prerequisite to doing good business. Whilst it’s right that businesses focus on the number of women in their boardrooms, our research shows the importance of focusing on the next generation too. Better collaboration between businesses, educators and parents is needed to level the playing field once and for all on young people’s aspirations.”

When it comes to advising children on future careers, the research showed that unsurprisingly, parents hold significant sway as a primary source of information, with 84% of young people turning to parents to discuss their career aspirations. But there is also a clear opportunity for businesses to step up. While seven in ten secondary school pupils (73%) agreed they would like to hear from local business leaders about jobs in their sector, more than half (53%) don’t remember a local business person visiting their school in the last year.

In response to the findings, O2 is partnering with Speakers for Schools to mobilise its most senior employees to go into schools and speak to children about the opportunities within the tech sector. And they’re calling for businesses countrywide to do the same.

Robert Peston, founder of Speakers for Schools and ITV News political editor, said: “These are shocking findings. It’s vital that gender should have no bearing on what our young people choose to do in life. Speakers for Schools, which has to date organised 2,500 free talks in state schools, aims in part to help and encourage students to fulfil their potential, whatever their sex, whatever their background – and it is brilliant that O2 has made an important commitment to work with us in our mission.”