“I wish I were a boy, so I could be a firefighter,” four-year-old Londoner Esme told her mother. Esme, who had only ever seen male firefighters in the books she had read, had assumed this career option was not open to her.
So female firefighters took to social media to show themselves at work. As a result, a delighted Esme is now safe in the knowledge her dream can come true.
Like all good children’s storybooks, this one has a happy ending. But it’s an inescapable fact – as ILOSTAT data detailing employment by sex and occupation across 121 countries show – that many occupations around the world are still split by gender.
Women dominate care occupations
By far the most female-dominated occupations are personal care workers, such as health care assistants and home-based personal workers. According to the latest ILOSTAT figures, caring personnel are 88% female compared to 12% male.
In fact, health care dominates the occupations that are mostly filled by women. Around three-quarters of health associate professionals – assistants in areas such as pathology, imaging and pharmacy – are women, and 69% of health professionals, such as general medical doctors and nurses, are women.
Cleaning roles, teaching, clerical support and food preparation are also dominated by female workers – to the tune of at least 60%.
Meanwhile, traditionally more risky occupations such as the military, plant machine operators and building work are occupations overwhelmingly held by men.
Across the 121 countries, men make up 97% of employment in building and related trades and as drivers and mobile plant operators; 90% or more of armed forces occupations; and 83% of those employed as labourers in mining, construction, manufacturing and transport.
According to the data, there are only a handful of occupations in which the gender split comes close to being equal. Most of these are desk-bound jobs, with legal, social and cultural professionals, along with business and administration associate professionals and sales workers, all hovering around the 50% split between men and women.
Hospitality and craft work also show an even split, with women making up 51% of occupations in food processing, wood working, garment and other craft and related trades, and 54% of hospitality, retail and other services managers.
The glass ceiling
Reinforcing the idea that the glass ceiling is still very much in place, men continue to dominate senior management positions such as CEO, senior officials and legislators. Almost three-quarters of these occupations, 72% to be more precise, are filled by men.
And in a world in which industry is crying out for more employees with science, technology, engineering and maths skills in order to power the digital economy, the data show that efforts to get more women into these fields could help a great deal. Currently, at least 72% of occupations in information technology, science and engineering are occupied by men.
The gender gap in tech is of course well-known, and these ILOSTAT data show in almost every country, regardless of income level or development stage, women are under-represented in the information and communication sector, which includes IT.
Although Esme’s dreams were made a little bit more real, the reality is that protective service occupations, which include police and firefighters, are made up of 84% male workers. For little girls like her across the world, the change can’t come fast enough.
This article uses data produced by our microdata team.