Teachers and governors overwhelmingly agree that schools should encourage young people to follow their passions. Whether they’re aspiring artists, astronauts, doctors, or prime ministers, no ambition is off-limits. However, prejudicial attitudes and misconceptions surrounding career pathways mean promoting equal opportunities is easier said than done.

Although discourse surrounding diversity has flourished across many industries in recent years, unconscious bias continues to shape how young people grow up. Socially ingrained prejudices surrounding gender, race, class, disability, and more mean pupils are often dissuaded from pursuing goals that suit their talents.

According to research by NHS Health Careers, for example, 72% of a sample of over 700 primary school pupils selected a picture of a man when prompted to “choose the surgeon” from a line-up. Some children even asserted their belief that nurses had to be female and doctors had to be male. To complicate matters further, many people are unaware that there are over 350 career pathways available in the NHS, from ambulance call handlers to therapeutic radiographers. Contrary to popular belief, not every role requires a degree or involves caring responsibilities.

So, how can we enhance knowledge surrounding careers pathways in sectors such as healthcare and, by extension, diversify the workforce? The NHS Health Careers programme represents an exemplary model for supporting young people. The service’s Step into the NHS website, for example, works to challenge unhelpful misconceptions at an early age. It contains quizzes, videos, a career A-Z, and more to help students raise their aspirations and realise that they can do any job, regardless of background.

The service also offers free and downloadable teaching resources for KS2, KS3 and KS4 learners. Helpfully, they’re all curriculum-linked and meet the Gatsby benchmarks for Good Career Guidance, as well as the Department for Education’s careers strategy.

But employers can’t drive systemic change without help from educators and governors. According to Abigail Changer, careers information and quality lead for NHS Health Careers, “We want governors to understand that the NHS is not just doctors and nurses. We are over 350 different careers with a variety of entry routes from apprenticeships to degree-level programmes. Armed with this knowledge, we hope governors will inspire their school’s senior leadership team and teachers to find out more and their students to find their future NHS career.”

How can governors address biases and misconceptions?

Governors have the power to influence careers education and tackle common misconceptions within schools. Here are a few effective actions they may wish to pursue:

  • Place unconscious bias at the top of the board’s agenda: Unconscious bias infiltrates almost every aspect of our lives, so boards must embrace wholesale cultural change in schools. Targeting careers education alone is unlikely to address the root of the problem.
  • Assess the school’s career policies: Close scrutiny of careers policies can help to weed out unintentionally biased language or guidance. Governors with first-hand experience of discrimination can offer particularly helpful perspectives in this regard.
  • Encourage the school to organise careers workshops: Many organisations offer school workshops designed to bust common myths about their sector. The Construction Industry Training Board, for example, offers sessions addressing gender disparities and misconceptions within the male-dominated construction industry.
  • Consider the school’s work experience provisions: According to Changer, work experience represents “a vital way for young people to learn about the world of work and embark on their chosen career. There are many organisations that offer structured programmes, including the NHS. See our dedicated work experience toolkit for teachers and careers advisors, which explains how the NHS works, dispels common myths and has practical tips on how to set up a placement.”

Passionate about tackling bias in careers education? Register your interest in governance today!

If you’re searching for new ways to give back to your community and help young people pursue rewarding careers, school governance could represent the perfect solution. While people from all walks of life are encouraged to join governing boards, those who’ve overcome prejudices within their careers are especially valuable. Read more about the role or register your interest to get started.

This article, as with all of this term’s campaign resources, was made possible through the support of  Allen & Overy.