Schools should encourage girls to be more ambitious when they choose their work experience, according to research from Roehampton University.
Professor Becky Francis says that girls, despite relatively good academic results, too often choose caring or creative work placements, which reduces their career options. She found similar problems with boys who feel they have to opt for traditional male roles.
"Not only does work experience not broaden horizons, it often actively constrains and further narrows them," she says.
Pupils would be prepared to do a non-traditional job if they were allowed to do work experience before making their final decision, she adds.
But schools are reluctant to push pupils into trying different types of jobs, Professor Francis says. They encourage pupils to organise their own work experience because it fosters an entrepreneurial spirit. But this meansmany children end up doing a limited number of jobs.
Similar pressures push pupils from different ethnic minorities into one career rather than another, she says, although this situation is better recognised by schools.
The expansion of vocational training has added to the problems, with modern apprenticeships in engineering dominated by men and courses in childcare mostly taken up by women.
These divides even show in traditionally male industries, such as medicine and law, where there are now more female workers. Women are more likely to become GPs rather than specialise and men are more likely to be barristers, the report says.