Choices about fields of study

It is important for women’s ability to be economically independent over their lifetimes that they consider a wide range of study and employment options based on their skills and aptitudes, and that their choices are not limited by gender, ethnicity or any other characteristics.  Men and women, however, still tend to choose fields of study and occupations that are dominated by their own gender.  These choices contribute to gender-based occupational segregation; a significant cause of the gender pay gap.

Young women's study choices are important

It is especially important for young women to be supported when making decisions which affect both their future education and employment. The Students’ Occupational Choice Study, commissioned by the Ministry, found that girls still aspire to a narrow range of gender-stereotypical occupations and international evidence suggests that young people are strongly influenced by gender norms in their teenage years, when they are making initial choices about careers.

Attitudes of key influencers, such as schools, careers advisors, parents, employers, peers, and media, have a significant impact on young women’s decisions about careers. Key influencers can both positively and negatively affect young women’s decisions. Work experience in non-traditional occupations and role models that challenge stereotypes can break down girls' negative expectations about the range of options suitable for them. However, research commissioned by the Ministry, Trading Choices, found instances of young women being discouraged from a work experience placement or career in a non-traditional role by a key influencer.

Non-traditional fields

The Ministry has conducted a number of studies into what influences women’s aspirations and choices,including investigating women working on non-traditional occupations.

For example, the Ministry, together with the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ), conducted a study on what motivates men and women to study engineering, and on whether there are differences between men and women in terms of their post-graduation career experiences. This research, Does gender matter?, found that advice and guidance about engineering as a study and employment option could be better for both men and women, but particularly women, as less information about engineering appears to be provided to girls.  Another finding was that visits to schools by engineers appear to be effective at encouraging people to choose engineering as a study option.