What do you want to be when you grow up?

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I haven’t decided yet.

I always quite fancied being a ballerina, but I think I’m past that now. I never really had the thighs for a leotard anyway.

At school, I remember filling in one of those career questionnaires and it telling me I should be an insurance underwriter. Honestly, how dull must my answers have been that the quiz thought I’d get my kicks organising family travel insurance?? Weirdly, years later, I found myself working for an insurance company, training to be an actuary. It was the most hideously boring two years of my working life. Every day I would go to lunch and want to run away for ever. Afternoons were spent resisting the urge to smash my head into my PC screen.

My week of work experience as a teenager did little to develop my career ambitions either. I remember leaving the organising of it rather late, and ending up in an estate agents. I didn’t actually mind it too much – my sister and I spent many happy hours as children playing estate agents, so I knew what to do – but it didn’t exactly raise my aspirations.

At least I didn’t spend the week as a hairdresser though.

According to a new survey from Ofsted, reported in the Guardian today, the majority of girls end up in stereotypically female work experience placements such as hair salons. Of the 1,700 girls surveyed, less than 10% spent their work experience in ‘unconventional’ roles, while the vast majority worked either in education, hair and beauty, offices and shops.

Are we failing the next generation of women? Are girls taking on these traditional female roles out of choice, or simply because they aren’t encouraged to explore other options?

What did you want to be when you grew up? Did your school and your teachers encourage you to challange gender stereotypes, and follow your dreams and your talents, or were you just shuffled unquestioningly into a ‘conventional’, gender appropriate job?



  1. 12 April, 2011 / 11:08 am

    I did the obligatory career quiz at school, which recommended I become a shepherdess. I chose to ignore this sage advice, went on to study Japanese and now run my own food business with my husband. I think I mostly learned that not all advice is good.

    • 12 April, 2011 / 11:32 am

      Hahaha! A shepherdess?? Brilliant! I can’t understand why you didn’t take to the hills there and then…

  2. Vicky Nunes
    12 April, 2011 / 11:11 am

    I wanted to be a teacher (as girls do). Now days I love my job – I work for a brilliant company that value me and I work from home which could not be more convenient. But quite a big bit of me still wishes I had trained to be a teacher rather than just spend those pre-parenting years trying to earn as much money as I could as quickly as possible.

    • 12 April, 2011 / 11:36 am

      I always thought I’d end up as a teacher. We have teachers in our family and it was always sold as ‘useful holidays for when you have kids’…

      So what do you do now? Did you find the pre-kids money-gathering years rewarding at the time though?

  3. 12 April, 2011 / 11:15 am

    My school (the local comp) spent whole terms trying to help us decide which of the armed forces would best suit us, and for the girls, nursing! I didn’t do any work experience because I said journalism : they looked aghast and said it was very competitive and it would be necessary to go to (gasp!) university. I’m a landscape architect,with three university degrees. Still interested in writing, though!

    • 12 April, 2011 / 11:49 am

      *Gasp* Not university???

      My eldest daughter’s Citizenship teacher is apparently spending every lesson this term trying to put everyone off going to university…

      I always fancied architecture of some kind. When I was young I always loved doing scale drawings of things, and making scale models of my bedroom to rearrange tiny bits of furniture in. I loved drawing nets and making them into shapes too. It’s no wonder I didn’t have many friends really.

  4. 12 April, 2011 / 11:27 am

    We didn’t have career quizzes or work experience at my school and I graduated no wiser about my options. The stereotypes we were given weren’t gendered but they were very real. Basically, if you were at all academic you were expected to aim to be a lawyer, doctor or engineer. I told a teacher once that I wanted to write and she suggested I look into law instead. I’m not sure that that was more helpful than if she’d suggested I try hairdressing.

  5. 12 April, 2011 / 1:16 pm

    I wanted to be a computer programmer. I was discouraged from doing programming because “the real money is in the systems design, rather than the coding”, so at least I was encouraged into the right industry – even if I hate the design stuff. Sure, it’s more money, but I want to get down to the code level – the high level design stuff is just boring to me! (The project/systems designers reckon all that code stuff is boring, and that their stuff is where it’s at, go figure)

    For my options I took all “hard” subjects, and no humanities. I was told that this might be a bad idea because the subjects were hard and I’d be risking college if I didn’t get the grades I wanted. I stuck to my guns and I got great grades in the end.

    I couldn’t find a work experience placement at a company that did coding, so at the last minute I applied to a conservation place and spent the week felling trees, trimming bushes, and laying paths – two weeks of hard, outdoor work, but in the summer. It was great fun. Nothing to do with the job that I actually wanted, but a great experience.

    Now I’m self employed. I run a video gaming website, write books about computer programming, and do web programming stuff.

    At my school you were allowed to just pursue whatever you wanted. I sucked at PE but did the GCSE for it, for example. The teachers didn’t care what you pursued as long as you worked hard at it.

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:37 pm

      I think your school had the right attitude. I’d have loved to do art at GCSE, but didn’t think I was good enough at it to do well, so ended up doing Home Ec instead (ergh). There is so much focus on attaintment in schools these days, I think it’s a shame that more young people aren’t encouraged to do more of the subjects they actually enjoy.

  6. hilly
    12 April, 2011 / 1:20 pm

    My career quiz told me to be a vet and my school tried for ages to push me into sciences at university. I had other plans and went to art college, which my school really frowned on. I did a degree in fashion and got a job at a major retailer where I worked up to being a buyer. The school then called me to go and do a careers talk, and those same teachers looked very sheepish.

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:35 pm

      That’s the perfect ‘I told you so’, and a brilliant example for young people, proving you should follow your dreams and not be sidelined into something you don’t believe in.

  7. 12 April, 2011 / 2:17 pm

    According to my mum when I was a kid I wanted to be a B&Q lady, a boxer or Bonnie Tyler. I did work experience in a school which put me off for life, but as I went to a Grammar School we were encouraged into the lofty professions – our old Headmistress would turn blue if she knew that several of my friends and I had given up work to be lowly housewives!

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:33 pm

      Hahaha! A B&Q lady, I love it! Belle is always wanting to be random things like that. For a while she wanted to work in McDonalds, then she wanted to own an ice-cream van, then she wanted to be a taxi driver.

      I don’t think it matters if you end up being a housewife if that’s what makes you happy – it’s certainly not the easy option – I think the important thing is that you at least have the choice.

  8. 12 April, 2011 / 3:40 pm

    I wanted to be a pilot for a long time, but I would never got in with my asthma and short-sightedness (ironically I seem to have grown out of asthma, and my eyes have got better). I also wanted to be a chef, and I was …. And generally speaking I mostly hated it.

    These days I would like to be a famous singer, but in reality I’ve probably got more chance of winning the EuroMillions. On a serious level I like what I’ve been doing, working in eCommerce and the only thing I’d like to change is where I do it …. I have a serious hankering to work and live in Singapore. And before someone says “do it then”, I have applied for such positions (and failed to make any headway). Maybe one day.

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:32 pm

      A famous singer eh? That’s a great ambition! What would you sing? I reckon you should record something for us and put in on youtube so we can assess your talent :-)

  9. 12 April, 2011 / 5:31 pm

    I think I was just so desperate to leave school that I didn’t really think too much about a career just the idea of FREEDOM. I worked mainly in hospitality but then struck gold when I started working as a superyacht stewardess. I guess a typical female role but enormous fun and lots of free travel!

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:29 pm

      Wow, superyacht stewardess sounds like an awesome job! Was it as glamorous as it sounds?

  10. Beth
    12 April, 2011 / 6:29 pm

    I had a career interview when I was in Year 10 I think. The woman came into the school from an outside agency and she had been told in advance I was ‘the teenage mother’ so she suggested child minding – didn’t ask me once which subjects I enjoyed or what I actually wanted to do. I had a wonderful teacher though who saw that I enjoyed her subject and she helped me get a good work experience place in a museum (seriously, that was where I wanted to go….I know, GEEK ALERT!).

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:29 pm

      Ergh, childminding?? As if one wasn’t enough? It’s great though that you had a supportive teacher – you really only need one teacher at that age to believe in you I think and it can make such a difference. I was really lucky at college that all my lecturers were really supportive when I had Bee, and let me miss a third of all my lectures in the second year so I could spend more time with her. I’m sure most young mums aren’t as lucky though.

  11. 12 April, 2011 / 9:18 pm

    I was interested in Hair & Beauty but seeing the college where they did hair & beauty I knew I’d never fit in so I went for Media Studies, the place for gamers and geeks like me. I’ve not had a single job in the media industry! I wished I had listened to my true self and gone for hairdressing. Now I can’t afford £3,000 a year.

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:27 pm

      Is there not a way to train in the evenings or get it on the cheap? Hairdressing is actually supposed to be one of the happiest professions isn’t it? My hairdresser is always telling me how much she loves it.

  12. 13 April, 2011 / 11:20 am

    ‘Office’ is a fairly broad category though, isn’t it? Programmers work in offices, I’m a tech journalist and work in an office… it doesn’t have to mean admin or secretarial work.

    • 13 April, 2011 / 3:23 pm

      That’s true, and I did think that when I was reading the original article – who’s to say you couldn’t being a woman doing an ‘unconvetional’ office based job?

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