Friday, 6 June 2014

No more jobs for the boys?

I'm really glad to see there is some thought being put into getting less gender bias in particular types of career - notably science - led by Jenny Willott, the UK's Women and Equalities Minister.

There is certainly nowhere that this has been more obvious than in physics. To be fair, things are marginally better than they were in my day. This is my final degree year photo at the New Cavendish in Cambridge and out of that whole horde, I think there five or six women (it's difficult to tell, given the average hair length amongst the men at the time). But there is still a long way to go.

That's me, circled, for your amusement
Apparently a report by the IoP suggests that around half of state schools 'reinforce gender stereotypes' in terms of the subjects students study at A-level. The plan to sort this out is to send in young female scientists and engineers as role models.

I have nothing against this plan - I like a good role model, but I think there should be a lot more effort put into the psychology of why these mindsets are created, because I am really not sure schools have a lot to do with it (or role models). All the evidence is that the biggest influence on teenagers is peer pressure, rather than anything adults do. How is this being addressed? How do you stop a teenage girl who wants to study science receiving mockery from her peers? We can go around in T-shirts proclaiming 'I'm a geek and proud of it', but how do we genuinely make it more acceptable to be into science?

The other big influencer, I'd suggest is youth culture. There's little point someone coming into schools if everything young women get from MTV and the other yoof channels, and magazines aimed at youth constantly push a particular kind of image that certainly has nothing to do with women in science. I doubt if she can do much about the peer pressure aspect - that has to come from young people themselves - but youth culture is definitely something Jenny Willott should be taking a look at influencing. Not by going all trying to make them go all worthy, but by addressing the remarkably conservative (with a small C) approach to gender roles that is taken by these outlets.

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