This year’s International Women’s Day theme was #EachforEqual; encouraging us all to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions, improve situations and celebrate women’s achievements.
One stereotype that seems to persist is that STEM subjects are ‘for boys’ or, even worse, that boys are better at these subjects than girls.
Research shows that right from their early years girls start to associate certain activities, environments and occupations with boys and men. Fireman Sam, Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine are just a few culprits that immediately spring to mind. And, because we need to change girls’ perceptions from early childhood, change can only be realised over the course of generations. Any efforts being made now will take 15-20 years to show results.
Nevertheless, there is progress being made. Last year, the number of female students taking exams in A-level sciences overtook males for the first time. However, this doesn’t give the whole picture as within the broader science subject there continue to be gender-specific trends. In 2018, girls were just as likely as boys to take chemistry, and more likely to take biology. The most striking gaps were in physics and maths where girls accounted for 39% maths A levels, 28% of further maths A levels, and just 22% of all physics A levels. Clearly, we’ve still got some way to go.
A number of strategies are suggested for encouraging young girls into STEM including teaching girls a ‘growth mindset’ – i.e. to believe that by working hard they can develop their talents and abilities in any field. Being ‘good’ at maths, science or anything else is not necessarily something you’re born with (and is certainly not determined by your sex). Instead, by working hard at something you can continually improve and achieve.
I think that’s a valuable lesson not just for young girls, but for girls and women of any age, including myself and my colleagues. Communications is a sector that continues to evolve and challenge those working within it. Add science and technology into that mix and we’re faced with a double challenge; understanding new and exciting technologies while finding increasingly creative ways to share them. We are constantly challenged to learn and improve; to think outside the box. It’s this cycle of innovation that makes our work so exciting.
I am lucky to be on this intellectual and creative journey alongside a raft of intelligent and creative women – some from science backgrounds, some not. Our work continues to test us and – with each other’s support – enables us to believe that we can continually exceed our own high standards. I think, and hope, that by instilling a growth mindset in ourselves we are doing our bit to spur on the next generations.
– Rachel Mitchell is an Account Director at AprilSix Proof