By Nic Ponsford FRSA: Award-winning Founder of the Global Equality Collective (GEC)
As students progress through their education, they’re often asked to consider what they want to do when they’re older. But for many young people, the answer is not clear. They might have limited exposure to different industries or careers, or they might not fully understand the educational requirements and job prospects of various professions. This lack of awareness can be particularly acute for students from underrepresented backgrounds, who might not have access to the same networks or resources as their more privileged peers.
It’s important to recognise that this a global issue that impacts young people from all corners of the world. Students in different countries and cultures may face different barriers and have limited exposure to certain career options that are considered invisible – but, despite these differences, there’s a job for everyone in education to do, wherever in the world they work – to create a more equitable and inclusive future for all.
Exploring Invisible Careers
One of the key challenges that underrepresented students face, all over the globe, is the lack of awareness of certain careers, particularly those that are considered invisible – professions that are not widely known, talked about, or understood by many students.
Examples of invisible careers that are often overlooked by students include careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and maths) fields, as well as careers in creative industries such as animation, software design, or game development. In the case of STEM fields, there is a persistent gender gap, with women and girls often being discouraged from pursuing careers in these areas. This can be due to various factors, including societal stereotypes and lack of representation in the media.
By challenging these biases and providing more visibility and encouragement for underrepresented groups, we can help ensure that all students have equal opportunities to explore a diverse range of careers and pursue their passions.
Addressing Teacher Bias
Teachers, like all individuals, have unique experiences and perspectives that shape their biases and privileges. While some biases are beneficial and help teachers connect with and understand their students better, some may be harmful. Teachers may not intentionally discriminate against certain students, but their unconscious biases can still impact the way they perceive and interact with them and the career advice they deliver. Their own experiences can also impact their understanding of possible jobs (or portfolios of jobs), what employers are currently expecting and what Gen Z wants from the world of work.
Professional development and training represent the first step in creating opportunities for inclusive approaches to career assistance. By understanding unconscious bias and its impact, teachers can work towards creating a more inclusive classroom environment. Additionally, recognising and addressing their privilege can help teachers to better understand the experiences of their students.
Of course, tackling bias and privilege is an ongoing process. It’s not about blaming or shaming teachers – but rather empowering them to recognise and address these issues in order to better support their students in understanding the range of options open to them.
Promoting Diversity in the Curriculum
Promoting diversity in the curriculum is crucial in making invisible careers visible to all pupils. One way to achieve this is by highlighting the contributions of people from diverse backgrounds in different careers, including those that are often overlooked. For example, students can be exposed to the stories of successful professionals who overcame obstacles related to their race, gender, religion, or other underrepresented and intersectional identities. Through exposure to such stories, students are exposed to different perspectives and encouraged to think outside the box.
In addition to highlighting diverse professionals, exploring the role that diversity plays in different industries is another potential route to success. For instance, when teaching STEM subjects, a teacher could introduce their students to various pioneers from underrepresented communities who contributed to the field of computer science. This not only makes the curriculum more engaging and relatable, but it also provides pupils with examples of diverse professionals who have made significant contributions to their sector. By promoting diversity in the curriculum, schools can help to challenge stereotypes and provide pupils with a more realistic and accurate view of the world of work.
The Importance of Role Models
Having visible role models who have pursued careers in these fields can be a powerful way to inspire and motivate students. Seeing someone who looks like them and has succeeded in a certain profession can help students to envision themselves in that same role, or to be a pioneer in another field.
Of course, it’s important to ensure that these role models represent a diverse range of backgrounds to show students what’s possible both in the present and future lived experiences. This includes people from different ethnic, cultural, and socioeconomic backgrounds, as well as those living with disabilities or who identify as LGBTQ+.
By providing a diverse range of role models, schools can help to challenge stereotypes and provide pupils with a more realistic and accurate view of the world of work. This can also help to create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for all students, regardless of their background or identity.
The future’s bright for all students
In short, schools must take proactive steps to make invisible careers visible to all pupils. This requires a multifaceted approach that addresses systemic biases, promotes diversity awareness, and provides equitable resources and opportunities to underrepresented students.
In order to create a more equitable and inclusive society, we must work together to make sure that all pupils have access to the same opportunities, regardless of their background or identity. By promoting diversity, breaking down barriers, and creating a supportive and inclusive environment, we can help to ensure that every student has the tools and resources they need to achieve their full potential and pursue their dreams.
After working in education for over 20 years as a teacher, school leader, trainer, and coach, Nic wanted to find an accessible means to make ordinary classrooms extraordinarily inclusive. Nic is passionate about creating a level playing field for career opportunities for young people from underserved groups. In 2020, Nic set up the Global Equality Collective (GEC) to address ‘one of the biggest issues in education’ – diversity and inclusion.