“Never let yourself be told that a sector is not made for you. Never let yourself be told that a profession or a dream can only be written in the masculine”, recently declared the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne to the students of Polytechnique. With 75.5% of boys admitted to MPSI preparation, 94.1% to BUT networks and telecommunications and 94.4% of girls to training for the psychomotrician diploma and 89.1% to the Bachelor of Education Sciences, certain sectors remain very gendered.
Marie Duru-Bellat, sociologist and author of The Tyranny of Gender, explains to us why even today, our choices of orientation are determined by certain stereotypes.
Why are career choices still so gendered? Are young people badly advised?
Theoretically, guidance specialists present all trades. It’s not so much a question of information as of choosing a job that suits us. Just as a girl is not going to dress like a boy, she is not going to move towards a profession that seems more suitable for a boy. The orientation is stereotyped: the girls want to be a lawyer or a doctor and the boys an engineer or a computer scientist.
The world of work is also gendered, whether we like it or not, and we associate qualities with a profession, whether they are attributed to boys or girls. For example, if we ask young people what a scientist looks like, we will imagine a solitary man in his office, whereas women are supposed to be open to others. Teens tend to be conformists and will project themselves into a profession.
What is the problem, basically?
The girls run away from engineering schools, but they are still doctors or lawyers, so very qualified! The problem is that access must not seem barred, or that the choices be limited. At school, young people learn to have self-confidence. For girls, even without a difference in success in maths, they will feel less competent, but we have the same phenomenon with children from working classes in reading: it does not necessarily affect performance, but self-confidence. What is shocking is that gender plays.
Can things change?
They are changing, but slowly. In some fields, there are really striking increases: the share of women among graduates of engineering schools in 1961 was 4%. Today, it is 28.1%. It’s a great development! Another development, among doctors: women were 26% in 1961 against 63% today. The law sector has also become more feminized.
What can make things happen are the recruitment needs in certain trades, which create calls for air. The IT sector notably opened up at the end of the 20th century, then closed. Other sectors have been neglected by men, such as medicine. 50 years ago, the son of the family was studying medicine, now the dominant orientation is more that of engineering school after a scientific preparatory course. Among scientific baccalaureate holders, one out of two executive sons goes to scientific preparation, which has become the royal sector. There is a market for orientations: certain courses may seem prestigious at one time, then more.
In vocational high schools, the distribution is even more gendered: in mechanics and construction, there are only boys; the girls are in the industrial textile section but, above all, in services and hairdressing. We see very few women studying construction, and when they dare to do so, they do not find a job when they leave. The diploma is not everything, companies find that girls are less qualified [à diplôme égal, NDLR] and the pioneers have more difficulty than if they were doing a so-called female profession. The long-term evolution will go through the evolution of mentalities in the world of work.
Changes will also happen with the media, series for example, giving another image of professions and role models: if we saw more female engineers in series, that could change. But the determining factor remains the evolution of working conditions. A survey of polytechnician women shows that their first job was comparable to that of their male colleagues, but that then, with their first child, they left for the public sector, which is more compatible with their family responsibilities. The day when in industrial professions, which are more masculine, it will appear possible to reconcile family and work, women will say to themselves that they can orient themselves there.
Does motherhood put brakes from high school?
Yes. Some high school girls said in a 1998 study that they wanted to be an interpreter and travel everywhere, then they explained that you have to be realistic and that they would rather be a language teacher, because family responsibilities fall on women. There is always a fear that a girl “neglects her family”. It is for this reason that things can only change very slowly, and it is not just a question of prejudice: reality is a problem, it must be taken into account.