A cardiac surgeon, a particle physicist, a computer programmer and a hydraulic engineer sit down to dinner. Picture the scene in your head. Now be honest: how many of those individuals did you picture as male? The chances that you envisaged an all-female ensemble are slim. Well, you may not be alone in your assumptions, and they are doing nothing to help close the gender gap. In a survey of more than 8,600 young people and adults in the UK recently cited in the Independent, more some 57% of teachers admitted to having made subconscious stereotypes about girls and boys in relation to sciences, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) subjects. More than half of parents admitted to the same subconscious stereotyping and a further 54% of teachers claimed they had seen girls dropping the subjects at school due to pressure from parents. The collective assault by parents and educations, conscious or not, is doing nothing for the female tech trailblazers of the future. There is little point in working hard to get more women into STEM careers, or encouraging them to take STEM subjects at university if the damage, as an increasing amount of evidence has come to show, is done far earlier.
Almost a third of young people responding to the survey said they thought more boys chose STEM subjects than girls because they matched “male” careers or jobs. And a further 36% said they were put off studying STEM subjects because they felt unclear about what careers they would support. But do subconscious gender stereotypes have any real impact on gender equality? Existing data from several countries suggest that they do, largely because those stereotypes don’t tend to stay subconscious for very long.
In the US, while women made up 48% of the workforce in 2011, they accounted for only 24% of STEM jobs. Women with a STEM degree were also far less likely than their male counterparts to follow STEM career paths, choosing jobs in healthcare or education instead. A report by the US Department of Commerce cited many reasons for this discrepancy, including a lack of suitable role models and less family-friendly flexibility in STEM jobs. (http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf) The report also considered gender stereotyping to be a significant factor, making recent data cited in the Independent all the more significant.
US women with STEM jobs earn on average 33% more than their non-STEM counterparts, making wage premiums far higher for women than men in this field. Yet in Hong Kong, the gender pay gap has increased by HK$500 since 2011. According to the most recent census report, women now earn, on average, HK$3,000 less than their male counterparts. There are certainly numerous causes for this problem, and any solution must be nuanced and supported by legislation, but looking at young women, and not picturing future scientists or engineers, is certainly not helping.
© 晉博教育中心 Brighten Youth Education Centre