Gender equality is an important matter for society nowadays and thus all education systems. In 2013, the OECD showed its concern for this matter in a document entitled Recommendation on Gender Equality in Education, Employment and Entrepreneurship[i]. The document sets out a number of recommended actions for countries as follows:
1. making the study of science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) financial and entrepreneurship issues, as well as education, arts and the humanities, equally inclusive and attractive for both boys and girls; promoting the development of stronger reading habits among boys and girls;
2. campaigning and raising awareness among young men and women, parents, teachers and employers about gender-stereotypical attitudes towards academic performances and the likely consequences of overall educational choices for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities, career progression and earnings;
3. encouraging more women who have completed STEM studies to pursue professional careers in these areas, for example by means of career counselling, adult education, internships, apprenticeships and targeted financial support.
There will be all sorts of reasons why gender inequality exists in societies. It is however one of the tasks of an education system to ensure that both sexes are not confronted by artificial barriers; and that girls in particular are encouraged to consider areas of study and careers from as wide a range as possible.
I thought of the OECD report this week when I came across a new UK-based organisation working in the area of STEM. The organisation is called ‘Stemettes’ and its aim is: “to inspire and support young women into careers in the STEM areas.” According to the figures on the Stemmetes website[ii], there is a need for this in the UK (and further afield). In 2016, there was an increase of 13,000 more women working in STEM-related occupations in the UK; but the proportion of the workforce made up of women had decreased since 2015 from 22% to 21%. The website goes on to point out that the rate at which women are taking up STEM-related jobs does not compare to that of men.
Their website, which is lively and engaging, highlights some of the ways in which they are spreading their message around the UK. Upcoming events include a "hackathon", in which girls are invited to “spend a day or two creating with technology”; and a panel event in another location, which involves meeting “a panel of women (and one man) from industry as they share their career journeys, favourite cheese and some advice. Then spend time talking to them one-on-one whilst you enjoy snacks.” Finally, visitors to the site can download the “OtotheB app”, which offers “on-demand support, weekly competitions and exclusive experiences (like meeting the Chief Scientist of NASA) and free event listings - curated by the Stemettes team, in your pocket.”
As you can see, the Stemmetes approach emphasises fun and being sociable. Social media is used to great effect and Stemmetes has a presence across all the apps (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Youtube etc) which are so central to young female students’ lives nowadays. In addition, students are funded to go on really exciting trips abroad. For example, one 16-year old student from England was one of five participants selected to attend the Dreamforce event in San Francisco last November. Dreamforce is described as “a place where many companies came together to share, experience, learn from each other and develop.”
It seems to me that the Stemmetes idea is a good one and that it has the potential to make a difference to gender equality in education. At the same time, it does not necessarily need an organisation like this to make some difference – every teacher of a STEM subject can do that by making sure that the way in which they teach is inclusive and tailored to the needs of both girls and boys.