Gender – still an issue for careers after University ?

One of the issues that have bedevilled careers advice work is the concern over sexist advice.  People assume that we give it, we claim we would never give it, and somewhere between the two we have the confusion of who said what to whom.  Of course this is a key area for people, often politicians to pontificate on.  The previous Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone had his views http://www.independent.co.uk/student/magazines/news-mayor-vs-careers-advisers-398006.html 

Whilst a Downing Street summit on gender and productivity in 2004, hosted by the then Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, centered on tackling job segregation and career sexism and the need to overcome it. In 2008 the Government decided to make it illegal to peddle such dangerous nonsense by outlawing it entirely http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/1575416/Schools-ordered-to-ditch-sexist-career-advice.html .  

Meanwhile work such as the GERI initiative, http://www.geriproject.org, and many others such as http://www.works4me.org.uk, continued in educational institutions to work against the ingrained beliefs and expectations that some people may have on this matter of sexist career advice. The Educational Institute of Scotland also has a useful and simple leaflet on how to challenge sexism  http://www.eis.org.uk/images/pdf/challenging%20sexism.pdf  

Impartial and unbiased advice is the way all people working in the Careers Advice field operate. In the workplace many companies have diversity policies and it is clear that all recruitment and promotional activities should be done in a fair and equal way.  So does this mean all the old battles have been fought and won in the modern workplace ?  All the more reason to worry when a new phrase is used in this arena called “Gender Fatigue” which is where people no longer have the energy to fight something they believe has been solved. Indeed in this case it can be more prevalent for young women entering the labour market that their mother’s generation. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE6272NA20100308?loomia_ow=t0:s0:a49:g43:r1:c1.000000:b30370306:z0  I guess one reason I find this such a worry is that it takes a very skilful approach to determine such subtle gender bias and how to monitor, identify and remove it. If you are in your first job after University you are not likely to be challenging such a subtle issue as it might not even be clear to you.   

On a related note, whilst attending the “HE in a Web 2.0 World” report launch in the Barbican last May, running in the same building was the Deutsche Bank, 8th Women in European Business (WEB) London conference http://www.db.com/presse/en/content/press_releases_2009_4497.htm?month=8 I was fortunate to speak to some of the people attending this conference on the situation facing the Gender bias issues in the financial area both in terms of initial recruitment and subsequent career progression.  It is no secret that this occupational area traditionally has had its equality difficulties and, according to a EOC report 6 months ago, is still having them http://www.equalityhumanrights.com/uploaded_files/financial_services_inquiry_report.pdf

However the people at the WEB conference I spoke to were very positive of the work that Deutsche Bank had taken to tackle this problem, and they felt that other finance firms were doing the same. Of course it is easy to take such a anecdotal snapshot too seriously but I feel this wider issue of equality in the workplace, isn’t going to go away anytime soon and could the spectre of a more subtle bias, whether based on gender or other aspects of an individual,  be making headway in our workplaces ?.

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Choose your University and course by its employability and salary ratings…

Mashup ahoy ! Like a premonition one of the first Mashups to hit the main street has arrived. The HE choice website called http://bestcourse4me.com/ was recently launched.  David Willetts, Shadow Innovation, Universities and Skills Secretary, has been promising this type of web resource since January 2009 and it is now here. Comparing the salary and employment status of different courses and universities might be interesting, but will it help young people make positive career choices. As always what is behind the figures ? A useful summary of some of the surprising results are in this blog http://www.statusq.org/archives/2010/02/24/2739/ which is written by a friend of the websites owners.

 Many issues about this website:-

 It was promoted by David Willetts as being worked on in conjunction with Microsoft, but now promoted as being in conjunction with Ros Smith and Steve Edwards computer entrepreneurs  (Although still listed as contributors there is now no mention of Microsoft on any press release)

David Cameron likes it !  http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/2867656/David-Cameron-backs-website-that-aims-to-get-more-teens-into-university.html  and so does the Sun http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/features/2866157/Education-under-Labour-day-2-Trevor-Kavanaghs-blistering-verdict.html  Must be the first time a website on choosing University courses has made such a splash in which is commonly thought to be Britain’s favourite paper (Copyright Sun Newspapers !)

Introductory Video spoken by Andy McNab (SAS Hero) http://greymansland.com/andymcnabnews/andy-mcnab-articles/andy-mcnab-in-the-sun-my-view-about-a-new-campaign-to-help-more-teens-get-to-university/

 In a strange link the other paper which carried some weighty reporting on it was the Financial Times, which also mentioned the related promise to put the careers service “Back on Track” http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/c5b5042a-21ae-11df-acf4-00144feab49a.html  Interesting comments on A level Law being “less than ideal” for top universities…

 With the push this website will get from the press,(or at least certain sections of the media), and its apparent value in working out which course provides the biggest bang for your buck, be aware of this website as you, or your colleagues, will be asked about it before too long !

 Obvious questions to ask include:-

 Will this resource help prospective students make better career choices in HE ? Or add even more to the confusion felt by some students and parents ?

What about the needs of the mature student, do these figures apply to them in equal number ?

Is being able to talk through such results still necessary or can students just use the website to choose their course, as recently suggested by John Morgan, president of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL) http://www.guardian.co.uk/education/2010/jan/05/higher-education-careers-advice-professional ?  (although to be fair I do understand that the reporting of his comments do not reflect his actual view and might have had some undue emphasis put on them which did not support their use)

One obvious problem is that 6 months a not really a valid time interval to get anything clear and positive about graduate career paths across all professions and areas. In fact according to this resource if you want to be employed after your degree Media Studies is a much better bet that Chemistry… Although obviously as an adviser I would not be letting such a result go by without putting some serious balance on it.

 This is one issue I think we need to be aware of. It is what Angela McFarlane of Bristol Uni has termed ‘techno-romanticism’. Briefly summarised as ‘give the students the tools and they can fly because they are all Digital Natives’. Sometimes the more traditional skills in Careers work are still valuable and can be transferred to the digital area.  Some of the approaches might need to be changed such as networking skills and how they are used comparing the approach of face-to-face to screen-to-screen. (or phone-to-phone !). However we cannot put the genie back in the bottle and Web 2.0 careers advice will be part of the future mix.

What makes a “Good Job” ?

Most of us need to work, if only to obtain money to enable us to live the life we desire. However money is not the only factor in what makes a good job. Indeed many people will talk about the jobs they have enjoyed, or careers they have experienced, without mentioning the money obtained. I though it would be worth balancing out the money focus by looking at the other factors which make up a “good job”, at least according to other people anyway.  One report by the Work Foundation http://www.workfoundation.co.uk/assets/docs/publications/197_good_work_final2.pdf shows the following factors as valued :-

Characteristic of a Good Job  (% as indicated)

Being valued/appreciated (getting credit for the work you do) 16%

Interesting/Fulfilling role/personally rewarding/Job satisfaction 16%

Autonomy/decision making/responsibility/Working conditions/environment (including location) 14%

Team working/staff morale 13%

Good management/management support/Training/staff development 11%

Enjoyable work 11%

Challenging/Variety 9%

Success/doing a good job/ achievement 8%

Meeting the needs of the customer/client 7%

Flexible (inc. working hours) 6%

Promotion prospects/advancement/Participate/contribution to decision making 5%

Skills/ability/equipment/tools to do the job/Other fringe benefits (eg healthcare) 3%

Clear objectives/goals/expectations/Good communication 2%

Another section lists 7 Key things that need to be in place to make up a “good job”

• Employment security;

• Work that is not characterised by monotony and repetition;

• Autonomy and control and task discretion;

• A balance between the efforts workers make and the rewards that they receive;

• Whether the workers have the skills they need to cope with periods of intense pressure;

• Workplace fairness;

• Strong workplace relationships (social capital).

Apart from the employment security aspect, (which is difficult to evaluate in many areas), how many of us consider the other aspects when looking at possible careers ? Something for students to ask when they are talking to anyone about their career and reflecting on whether it would be the right one for them. Of course in terms of job security the best investment is gaining skills, qualifications and knowledge which are in demand.  This can involve lifelong learning and should enable anyone to change careers and explore new areas as they go though life. Adult & Graduate Guidance is key to this success and lifelong learning is already a part of many career areas though continuous professional development (CPD), which can surprise some students !  Indeed some careers demand CPD as proof you can continue to do your job of for continuing professional certification in areas such as Accountancy and Medicine, plus other careers areas which you might not expect, such as local Fire and Rescue Services for example.

Some of these factors may change based on a students age and interests, although getting and keeping a good job is always a challenge, it can be immensely rewarding. Of course it is not always possible to get exactly the job or career any of us want straight away, but as the saying goes “Until you find the work you enjoy, enjoy the work you find”.  As I always say it will help anyone to learn more about what they do want to do and can also help to pay the bills whilst they are searching

Student finance debacle – comment by John Beckett

Isn’t this the final sign that ‘we’ never really meant it when ‘we’ proclaimed Widening Participation as the way to get rid of the historic imbalances and inequalities in our higher education admissions? The very students who have been encouraged to realise their potential and who need the financial support that exists are the same ones suffering the most in this scandal to the extent that some are leaving university after just a few weeks; unable to borrow from parents, unable to basically get by. Not that it will be easy to access accurate figures on early dropouts so it will be difficult for the media to get the true data in this debacle. How have such delays and such miscalculations on numbers (when it was apparent from published UCAS stats all along how many intended going to university this year) been allowed to happen? Why was the online system not trialled effectively? Is the Students Loans Company chronically understaffed – not fit for purpose? We’re already into the next cycle – it can’t happen again. An enquiry into all this must occur. Sooner than that, as has been said elsewhere, heads must roll as it’s too late for this year’s cohort – the damage has irretrievably been done. And what on earth has David Lammy, of all people, been doing overseeing such a shambles. Many of his constituents are amongst those worst affected. A truly depressing portent for the imminent tuition fees debate.

Why Does Diversity Matter at College Anyway?

Having experienced the recent one world week at one of my local colleges, http://www.strode-college.ac.uk/student_life/288 which I know is replicated across other institutions, and having discussed the need for greater awareness of the Diversity agenda within our work with colleagues I though it would be useful to summarise the 8 reasons why diversity does matter in education. It is from an American posting, (hence the use of a phrase such as liberal arts), but is quite a useful listing by authors of the book Diversity and the College Experience. The headline reasons are:-

1. Diversity expands worldliness.

2. Diversity enhances social development.

3. Diversity prepares students for future career success.

4. Diversity prepares students for work in a global society.

5. Interactions with people different from ourselves increase our knowledge base.

6. Diversity promotes creative thinking.

7. Diversity enhances self-awareness.

8. Diversity enriches the multiple perspectives developed by a liberal arts education.

You can read a fuller summary of this here: http://www.usnews.com/blogs/professors-guide/2009/08/12/why-does-diversity-matter-at-college-anyway.html

Building a common career language – from Alberta, Canada

If you’ve ever wondered about how to use the word “career” or what “career development” is really defined as, you now have a tool that can help.  I came across this whilst doing some work on careers recently and thought it was a useful summary to spark comments and ideas. Obviously this is from Canada and so we might feel some aspects should be changed for the UK, but it is food for thought. Particularly in light of the general confusion of “careers” and “careers advice” I’m quite aware that we can all use the same words to mean very different things.  I particularly like the 6 career development terms they have listed down the left hand side. Aspects such as “Community Economic Development” and “Labour Market” are going to be key aspects embedded within the phrase ‘careers’ in the future I feel, especially their values and benefits. Check out  http://www.careerdevelopment.ab.ca/matrix/ for the whole thing !

The European Classification of Higher Education Institutions

Interesting project to classify HEIs into a European Classification. Obviously we have the league tables already, which I have already commented on https://headviser.wordpress.com/2009/07/27/explore-higher-education-and-see-the-world/ but this is different as it focused on institutional diversity. Worth looking to see the dimensions that they are using and even those this is a work in progress, (no actual universities are named just yet), it is perhaps signs of things to come when you can compare universities as you compare cars or contents of food. (I do realise that this is contentious and a simplistic view, but this seems to be the way that we are heading so it is well to be aware of such ideas). Keep an eye on http://www.u-map.eu/ for the future.