Women's Jobs, Men's Jobs

Women's Jobs, Men's Jobs

Workers at desks

Women and men tend to work in different jobs and sectors. There are many reasons for this including stereotyping about men's and women’s capabilities, skills and interests; access to training; and the culture associated with different types of work.

Businesses that support women in male-dominated jobs can benefit from improved staff morale, increased innovation, and an enhanced reputation as a good employer. Here you can learn how assumptions about men’s and women’s abilities and preferences can impact on your business.

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Attracting the best talent

Research shows that women are less likely to apply for jobs for which they do not have all of the essential and desirable criteria. If jobs are not advertised formally then women, who tend to have less access to informal workplace networks, are less likely to be aware of development and promotion opportunities. Ensuring that a broad range of methods are used to advertise job vacancies will mean that you will reach a wider pool of potential applicants.

This might include:

  • Local or national newspapers
  • Online recruitment sites (e.g. s1jobs, indeed.co.uk, monster.co.uk)
  • Social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn)
  • Job Centre
  • Employment agencies

Setting qualification requirements for jobs

While you may need staff to have particular skills, experience or qualifications to do the job, you must ensure that the requirements you list in job advertisements, person specifications and job descriptions are essential for the demands of the post.

For example, requiring applicants to have ‘recent experience’ might exclude women who have had a career break to raise children, or who are currently on maternity leave. Similarly, by requiring applicants to have obtained certain skills ‘in a similar environment’, employers might be excluding people who have gained equally valuable skills in the home environment, through volunteering, and so on.

By considering alternative or equivalent qualifications and/or experience gained outside of work as acceptable criteria for vacancies, employers can maximise their chances of recruiting the best talent.

When it’s hard to fill a vacancy

Many businesses find it hard to find skilled and talented people. If you are in this position, it might be helpful to consider ways of encouraging different groups of people to apply for your vacancies.

Women and men who aspire to work in occupations more common to the opposite sex often feel discouraged from doing so. This is because of stereotyping about women's and men's abilities and preferences, access to training, and inflexible working practices.

Businesses which adapt their recruitment processes and encourage applications from the widest possible pool are more likely to attract and retain the staff they need.

Methods of encouraging applications from the widest possible pool:

  • Ensuring job adverts are worded to encourage applications from both men and women. Any pictures in adverts should represent both sexes.
  • Offering pre-interview training sessions for potential employees to learn about the business and the skills required for the vacant post.
  • Offering work experience opportunities which avoid gender stereotyping. For example, engineering and construction placements for girls as well as boys.
  • Offering flexible working.
  • Providing induction training for women returners whose family related career breaks may mean recent work experience is limited.
  • Induction training should be designed to fully introduce staff to the business and their role within it.

Advertising vacancies

When advertising your job vacancy, avoid using gender specific recruitment adverts (such as for ‘handyman’ or ‘waitress’), which may imply only one particular gender is suitable for the job. This can amount to direct sex discrimination, which is unlawful. Adverts should use gender neutral terms that can be applied equally to women or men.

Also be aware of indirect sex discrimination. This can occur where an apparently neutral provision, criterion or practice is applied to all staff, but can particularly disadvantage women or men.

When using images in a job advert, make sure these do not appear to favour or suggest a particular type of person should apply for the post (for example, white, male, young). Having gender neutral images in adverts will broaden the appeal of the advert.

The Equality Act 2010 does, however, allow advertisements aimed specifically at one gender, in very limited circumstances. One reason for this is in cases where there is a genuine occupational requirement for an employee to be a particular gender. This could apply to caring roles, where personal care is delivered to clients of one gender or another.

Positive action in recruitment

If you've identified that certain groups are under-represented in a particular role within your business, you can take positive action measures to try to address this. In recruitment, this can be done before, or at, the application stage. These steps can include encouraging people from those groups to apply or helping people with particular protected characteristics to perform to the best of their ability (for example, by giving them training or support not available to other applicants).


A design company is looking to take on a new software developer. All of its current software developers are men, so the company directors decide that they should try to target women for the position. The company contacts Women in Technology, an organisation which promotes career opportunities to women working in information technology, to advertise the vacant position. The advertisement reaches a much wider pool, and there is an increase in female applicants.

Positive action can be used in a tie break situation, where two applicants are equally well qualified but one shares a protected characteristic and the other does not. In the example above, the design company could select a female candidate over the male candidate, providing she was equally well qualified, in furtherance of the employer’s efforts to have a more representative workforce.

This is not the same as ‘positive discrimination’, which is unlawful. If, after advertising for the post, a man applied and was better qualified than a female applicant, the employer would have to offer the job to the male candidate, even though they were targeting women in an effort to redress the gender imbalance in their workforce. To offer a post to a less well qualified person because they share a protected characteristic is discriminatory.

What is women's work?

Women and men tend to be clustered into different occupations and sectors. There are many reasons for this, including stereotyping about men and women’s capabilities and skills, access to training and the culture associated with different types of work. Job segregation restricts choices for both women and men, the jobs which are more likely to be done by women are associated with low pay and limited prospects for progression.

These jobs, or 'women's work', are sometimes referred to as the 5 Cs: cleaning, catering, cashiering (retail), clerical work, and caring. Men who do work in these female dominated sectors are more likely to hold senior or managerial roles.

Undervaluing of roles and occupations

The undervaluing of roles is linked to gender stereotyping, and expectations placed on women where historically they have carried out similar roles in the home, such as caring and cleaning. ‘Women’s work’ has lower status and value because the skills required for these jobs are perceived to be inherent in women. As a result, the work is not fairly paid.

The potential for the undervaluation of women’s work is recognised in equal pay law. Not only are women at risk of being undervalued within a given job or occupation (they are, for example, at a greater risk of being paid less for the same level of efficiency within the same job), but they are also at risk of undervaluation through employment in jobs or occupations which are, in themselves, undervalued. This is reflected in the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Equal value is measured in terms of the demands of the job. This means that an individual has the right not to be paid less than a member of the opposite sex where the work is different but is of equal value in terms of the job.

Examples of claims between different jobs which have been successful at tribunal or settled in favour of the applicant(s), include:

  • Wholesale news distribution clerical assistant and warehouse operative
  • Cook and shipboard painter
  • Canteen workers and cleaners and surface mineworkers and clerical workers

Training and skills

The most successful organisations make the best use of their most valuable resource - people. Managing people in a way that enables and encourages them to reach their potential benefits both individual and business performance.

Attracting and retaining skilled workers is a key challenge for businesses. By developing effective training opportunities for staff, smaller businesses may find it easier to retain skilled staff, while benefiting from increased efficiency, productivity and improved morale.

Part-time, low-paid women are the group of workers least likely to be offered training opportunities in the workplace, but they are also the most likely to be working below their skill level. It makes good business sense to ensure that all staff have the same opprtunity to develop their skills.

Supporting staff to study for work-related formal training qualifications can be beneficial to both individual staff and your business. This support may include making a financial contribution towards course fees, providing paid or unpaid time off for staff to attend classes and study, and offering flexible working.

Supporting staff to do training that is not specifically related to their current role can also be beneficial to your business. Investing in training and development demonstrates a commitment to staff. Providing development opportunities, such as project working, to women as well as men can help staff move into different areas of work, particularly those roles which are traditionally seen as being done by the opposite sex.

What to consider when developing training for staff

  • Training, development and qualification opportunities must be open to all, including those who work part-time, job share, or work flexibly.
  • Schedule training, learning events and team meetings to ensure that all staff are able to attend.
  • Avoid holding training events or team building opportunities after work hours or at weekends, wherever possible. Staff with caring responsibilities may find these difficult to attend.
If a training event conflicts with a staff member’s caring arrangements, consider:
  • rescheduling the event
  • adjusting the staff member’s hours
  • paying the childcare or other care cost
  • provide payment or time off in lieu for any extra hours required to attend training

Flexible learning can benefit all staff but particularly those working part-time or on maternity leave. Open University courses, distance learning or online learning enable training to be undertaken flexibly.

Pressure on budgets can mean that online training is a good option for smaller businesses. Allowing staff the time and resources to complete online training during working hours means that all staff will be able to participate.

Case Study: Access to training

Linda has worked for ABC Ltd for seven years. She originally worked full-time, but following the birth of her second child last year, decided to work part-time. Linda works as an administrator in the main office for two days a week. The office is easily accessible by public transport and she has agreed with her line manager that she can work flexibly and start work at 9:30am, which allows her to drop her children off at nursery and school before coming to work.

When she was working full-time, Linda was kept informed about meetings and training courses. Since she reduced her hours, however, she feels that she is increasingly out of the loop and often only finds out the day before, or sometimes on the day itself, that she is expected to be in a meeting.

ABC Ltd recently upgraded its IT system and staff need training on how to use it. The office is extremely busy during the day so it was suggested that the training take place one evening after work.

Staff from the company’s other office will also be attending, so it was decided that the training be held at a hotel on the other side of town. The others in the team are happy to attend but as this is arranged over morning coffee on one of Linda’s days off, she doesn’t get told about it until the beginning of the following week – one day before the event.

Linda often struggles for childcare outside of school hours, as her family don’t live locally and her partner works shifts. She doesn’t drive, and the hotel is almost a mile away from the nearest bus stop. While attendance at this event is not essential, she is concerned that by not attending she will be at a disadvantage at work. As the only part-time administrator in the office, she already has less time than other staff to become familiar with the new system, and she is reluctant to rely on other members of staff to train her up, as it takes them away from their own work.

Linda approaches her line manager and tells her that she is happy to do the additional training but that she requires more notice to arrange childcare, and that ideally she would prefer the training to take place at a more accessible location. Her line manager is apologetic, and admits that as she is the only part-time member of staff in the office, she hadn't really given any thought to how the last minute arrangements would affect her. They agree that the training be relocated to the office, and will take place during work hours.

Case Study: On-the-job training

Jennifer is 22, and has worked for a small architectural firm, Grand Designs, since leaving school at 17. She is employed as an administrator and is a valued member of the team which comprises Jennifer, two architectural technicians and the managing director.

Grand Designs is a small, family-owned business which has operated for almost 100 years. When Jennifer first started work with the firm, the office was run on a paper-based system. Mr Jones, the managing director, prided himself on running a business that used traditional design methods, producing all of the firm's commissions using freehand drawings. Jennifer enjoyed working at Grand Designs but was worried by the recent downturn in trade and she wondered if the firm's reluctance to use technology might be holding them back.

At school, Jennifer excelled in IT and she believed she could convince the managing director of the benefits of Computer Aided Design to his business. While initially reluctant, Mr Jones eventually agreed to invest in basic design software. Jennifer offered to train Mr Jones and on the software and, after some time, Mr Jones agreed that CAD was a worthwhile investment that could prove very effective.

Shortly afterwards, one of the technicians, James, was offered a job with a large firm in the city. Mr Jones was worried about finding a suitable replacement; as a small business, he knew he could not compete with the salaries being offered by large firms for experienced technicians. Jennifer, however, saw James’ departure as an opportunity to progree. She had been with the firm for five years and during that time had gained in-depth knowledge of the workings of the business, had a good relationship with clients and contractors and had enjoyed getting involved in some of the design work when training the others on using the CAD package.

Jennifer approached Mr Jones with a proposal that she could receive on the job training, with a view to eventually taking on the architectural technician’s role. While Jennifer did not hold the standard qualifications for the role, she believed that the knowledge and experience she had gained in the five years she had worked for Grand Designs would benefit both her and the business.

Mr Jones agreed to Jennifer’s proposal, happy that he would retain a trusted employee who had a good working knowledge of the business and who could also help to train up the new member of staff who would replace her as office administrator.

Jennifer successfully negotiated a training salary with Mr Jones with the agreement that she be allowed to study for her chartered qualification on a part time basis, with day release to university when necessary.

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