Jobs for the boys?

I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about women in the working world, so bear with me here. There’s been a recurring theme though lately, because where I’m from we’re getting a very big opportunity in this sector soon:Why do so few women get into engineering? And STEM subjects overall?

I love technology, enjoyed ‘CDT’ at school (Craft Design technology, or woodwork if you were at school a little before me!) and I like to solve problems… OK so there are certain levels of science and maths involved in it (of which I’m proficient, I work in Data now and have a hidden love of science and how things work) so essentially I should have considered it. But I didn’t. Even though I attended a school which had an engineering specialisation.

Do we gender specify careers in our head? Like in years gone by, do we still teach our children that women are nurses and administrators and boys are engineers? How is that fair when we’re in 2016?

Are girls really only good at English and boys the ones who excel in Maths and Science? I’d find lots of women who would disagree – if STEM is the future then women need a foothold in it, but we’ll only get there by nurturing this in our younger generations. My little girl loves bugs, mud, maths, figuring out how things work – she also loves dressing up and playing with dolls too. My son enjoys all those things too, he’s also caring, intelligent, kind and active so I wouldn’t ever tell him that he couldn’t be whatever he set his mind to – nurse, footballer, or astronaut. Why do we take that away from our girls? And at what point do they back away from getting their metaphorical hands dirty?!

The #ILookLikeAnEngineer campaign of August 2015 started as a recruitment campaign but ended up as more of a campaign against gender stereotypes. Although it followed #DistractinglySexy after Nobel laureate Tim Hunt voiced that women are distracting in the lab in June of that year. But it brought to attention the fact that women can look however they wish and still be an engineer, scientist, mathematician without losing femininity (or without compromising themselves or others in the lab, thanks Mr Hunt).

I’m sure there are plenty of women and young girls who love design and problem solving and those team building tasks about building things out of paper, string, scissors and the kitchen sink… So why don’t they end up in engineering?

Women continue to be one of the most underrepresented demographics in engineering. The UK has the lowest percentage of female engineering professionals in Europe, at less than 10% and only 6% of registered engineers and technicians (i.e. CEng, IEng, EngTech) are women. This is depressing and it certainly isn’t because we aren’t clever enough in this country – but why do more women not see engineering as an option for them? Especially when there is a shortage of engineers, there are apparent opportunities there and we aren’t encouraging young girls to seek them.

When we think of engineers, do we still see middle aged men in hard hats and high-vis jackets covered in muck? This isn’t what an engineer looks like anymore, there is so much new technology out there and so many solutions to find, designs to create and bridges to build (literally and figuratively!) that we should be keeping up with our global sisters – there are high proportions of female engineers in India, so we’re behind India in our perspective here, which astounds me.

Also consider this, it appears like a great career: in a survey of female engineers, 84% were either happy or extremely happy with their career choice and Engineering students are second only to medics in securing full-time jobs and earning good salaries. Statistics also say that diversity matters: companies are 15% more likely to perform better if they are gender diverse and in a global survey, 85% of corporate diversity and talent leaders agreed that “A diverse and inclusive workforce is crucial to encouraging different perspectives and ideas that drive innovation”.

Maybe the step change that is needed is our preconceptions and opinions, careers come from hard work, opportunities and intelligence – not your gender. Maybe women can rock a hard hat – maybe its not about the hat at all.


Independent Women

All the honeys who making money, throw your hands up at me… One of my favourites! 

I was watching ‘The People vs OJ Simpson’ over the last few weeks and while I know some of it was constructed for the drama, it got me thinking.

Marcia Clark, badass prosecutor, strong woman and very intelligent human being. But the media and the public appeared to totally take her apart based on what she was wearing or how her hair was styled. She was subject to a whole heap of sexism in the courtroom for all the world to view just 20 years ago. Nobody seemed to care for her inspiring dedication or her commitment to finding justice and the truth. Or the fact she was a mother who had a family at home to be strong for, provide for and fight for – she was going through an intense divorce throughout this case. In fact, having done some quick research, the defence team actually threw serious shade her way, accusing her of neglecting her children for working so hard! Her ex husband made her even more attractive media fodder by selling topless photos of her from a holiday, because that’s totally acceptable material for a newspaper to print about a professional prosecutor for the state. The media seemingly chose to focus attention on her for how pretty or sexy they thought she was, or wasn’t…

It’s like being at school! Dumbing down the clever girl to belittle her for something superficial because someone is intimated by her.

Thankfully, I think we’ve moved on from this time a hell of a lot. If anyone told me I was neglecting my children through working too much there’d be serious consequences (mainly me asking if they understand that children have 2 parents!) and some ‘oh no you didn’t’ comments returned.

But I can’t help but think I wouldn’t have ever looked to Marcia as a role model had I not seen this show, she was someone in the background (although Wikipedia tells me she made herself pretty and got a TV show). And young girls of today don’t have too many role models in their sights who openly display their intelligence rather than their body. Nor do they have too many aspirations of being intellects, politicians, scientists, judges, directors, producers – just the people in the limelight looking pretty claim to be ‘strong and independent’ when they have hoards of staff working to their every need. Why? Have we brought this about with TV and magazines? Where are the Marcia Clarks of today?

I really think we need to shine a light on the everyday heroes, the strong women of business, the justice system and politics, in order to raise the aspirations of our girls. I see issues in needing to demonstrate the power of women having an affect on girls’ aspirations as much as the boys’ – who need strong women to raise them. Someone who can show them that being successful and clever and even friendly is important and doing your hair and nails can always be done, but perhaps making it secondary to working on your brain. We need men who openly value the equality of their female peers to foster the attitude in our boys. Young girls need to learn to be confident enough to sell themselves into university or the workplace as much as the boys do already.
How do we do that though? 

I know a lovely young girl in the last year of primary school who is clever, beautiful, a great athlete with a very kind heart. She’s also bullied horribly by some spiteful girls in her class who are obviously jealous. Now some girls would cave and mould themselves, dim their shine to avoid the negative attention. Thankfully because this young woman has a strong mum and a good head on her shoulders she keeps her chin up and carries on knowing she’ll make new friends at secondary school and will probably do much better in life – it’s certainly not without tears and difficulty, but it’s definitely admirable. We need more like her, defiant and strong at a very young age. I worry that a lot of girls would simply change who they are and affect their life’s direction in doing so.

How do we get through to them? What do we have to do for young girls like my friend to simply be admired and celebrated rather than bullied? To teach girls that being a barrister or a doctor or whatever they want to be is not only possible but necessary! We can’t change a whole culture just by writing blogs. As older generations of womankind, how do we encourage high aspirations and friendly competition in our daughters, and build successful women in a world so focused on the exteriors of women rather than the interior?

Maybe we need to set examples and demonstrate that it’s ok if you go without makeup for a day but make sure you pick up your brain on the way out.

Answers on a postcard… 



The dirty, filthy and ‘unsexy’ F word…

Feminism… It gets a bad rep. Loads of Americans who didn’t understand what feminism meant started the ‘f**kfeminism’ trend this year by confusing it with male hate or slut shaming. The main thing we can do for ourselves and for the next generation is get our heads around what it is.
Feminism isn’t about not shaving your armpits and wearing frumpy clothes or not being allowed to wear heels, dresses and make up. It isn’t about hating men or being aggressive and it’s not about saying women are better than men. It IS about women having the same rights, opportunities and pay as men, without being judged or scrutinised or questioned for their choices within those rights and opportunities. It IS about having choice and it IS as important for men to be feminists as it is women. It’s also about being treated as a human being, women don’t ‘deserve’ to be raped and men don’t have a ‘right’ to have sex with any woman who doesn’t want to, even if that woman is his wife.
Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones wants to get rid of the word ‘feminism’ because she says everyone should be a feminist really, anyone who isn’t is just sexist. So making a point of saying you’re a feminist shouldn’t be a big deal but being against it is… I agree with the notion, but I still think we should actively be choosing to talk about women’s rights. I hear more about LGBT rights than women’s rights anymore… (Nothing but love for the LGBT community, just observing the universal conversation). You may think this is because women have so many rights, but until we can say that there are no ‘traditional roles’ or ‘glass ceilings’ or ‘gender pay gaps’ then the need for feminism and women’s rights to be a topic discussed is still there.

If Germaine Greer isn’t your idea of a role model for feminism there are plenty other examples… 

Look to Emma Watson, Lady Gaga, Caitlin Moran, Oprah, Ellen Page, Angelina Jolie, Lena Dunham, Malala Yousafzai or Justin Trudeau (seriously, Google the last one – Canadian Prime Minister, interesting man and proud feminist).

It’s not about loving every woman on the planet, that’s not human nature, we’re all different and have our own opinions on others… So you can see a fellow woman as annoying, verbose, superficial, flaky and that doesn’t work for you then feel free to not like her. However, don’t judge her because she doesn’t value your Louboutins or MAC makeup (I can’t justify spending hundreds on shoes when I have mouths to feed and I don’t agree with animal testing, but not bothered if these are ‘your thing’) and don’t judge her if she chooses to look pretty or have tattoos or piercings or flat shoes. It’s about looking at who a person is not what they look like/wear and it’s more about who she is attempting to be rather than her eyebrows being on fleek.

Sadly, our first female leader in the UK wasn’t a feminist, she didn’t even care too much about being a woman. Margaret Thatcher had an opportunity to raise up other women and pitifully she smashed the glass ceiling and then pulled the ladder up after her. In 11 years, she promoted 1 woman in cabinet – proving that successful women don’t define feminism, but a woman’s attitude to other women does. Eva Peron did more for feminism than Magaret, as did figures who weren’t specifically political like Maya Angelou and Diane von Furstenburg. Thankfully in the town I’m from we have two female leaders, a female elected Mayor and a female Chief Exec at the council (Jo Miller, another name to google). I’ve met them both (often in the lifts at work) and they are warm and friendly people, who happen to have created success in areas that used to be dominated by men. I doubt they would see other successful women as a threat and I’m sure they’re happy to encourage women who perform well in the workplace. These are the kinds of women who will inspire and these are good everyday examples of feminism.

Feminism is not prescriptive, it’s about being who you want to be – if you want to wear sexy clothes then do! If you wish to dance your ass off in a way only Beyonce would understand then please, go ahead! You shouldn’t then be open to ridicule, judgement, criticism or unwanted attention because of it. So feminism can be sexy, if sexy is want you want to be.
Cos we all know the answer to the question Queen Bey asks… Who run the world? 

Finding the sisterhood?

So I’ve decided to start a blog. Only because I’ve found something I’m really passionate about and need to get out into the world to ask about and discuss. I haven’t really thought about ‘structure’ or anything so bear with me…

I’m really worried about the world I’ve brought my daughter into, Elodie (sounds like melody) is 2 and a half, she’s bright, funny,caring, feisty as hell and won’t wear anything unless she wants to. Annoying, yes, but i’m dying to harness it.

I also have a 5 year old son who is clever, kind, sensitive and a little bit cheeky… So I’m doing alright and probably don’t have too much cause for concern where my children are concerned. But the scary thought is, if they both wanted to be parents, scientists, footballers, married, whatever – my daughter would probably be more judged in all of those things than my son would.

Before you continue, this isn’t anti-men in any way (I love men, I have men as best friends and a lovely bloke sat beside me in life) this is about the fact that lots of women see other women as competition and so begins a cycle of criticism, body shaming, oneupmanship, terrifying out-parenting and general bitchiness.

How could my chubby arms make me a worse mum? How could my love handles affect my IQ? How could my un-peachy behind make me a bad partner or friend?

Those things don’t correlate, but we emphasise the importance of the exterior so much that it becomes what we judge each other on rather than bothering to find out who the person behind the facade is. We’re the generation of Photoshop and social media and contouring, we can make anything look good. But whose idea of beauty are you conforming to and what is so wrong with admitting to being something way more beautiful, like flawed?

We’re told to buy anti ageing products like ageing is bad (sadly, the opposite of growing old is dying young) or to have bigger lips, bums, boobs and a smaller waist. What about the size of your brain? What about the sort of person you want to be? Instead of learning to paint our faces like painting by numbers why don’t we broaden our minds? Because clever isn’t cool?

At the end of primary school, girls usually outperform boys academically. By the end of secondary school, the scores are fairly level. In earnings, men often do much better. Do men just play catchup in their teenage years? Do young women have lower aspirations? Do the bitchy girls in the toilets win over a really clever girl and affect her confidence to achieve? Who knows. But if that girl had a little of the spirit she had as a toddler, they might not have won and she could still achieve her potential… Maybe we need to make sure our girls don’t lose their feisty temperaments.

It’s not about setting your bra alight or stopping shaving your legs its about being who you want to be and enjoying your individuality without being judged for it. If you want to wear make up, be a stay at home mum or become a doctor and that will make YOU happy then do it! If you want to tie your hair back when you have prominent ears or rock some Dr Martens then do it! Life’s too short to fit other people’s ideas of what you should be and being honest with the world is so much more fun.

I had boys a friends for years because they’re only competitive about football and music quizzes and… Well everything, but I have so many badass woman in my life that can’t see how amazing they are because some girl is younger/prettier/thinner… They’ve always seen other women as the competition and so they compete with themselves. It’s crazy and sad and if only we harnessed the attitude of the little girls who wear exactly what they want, look out for others and prioritise their sense of self we would be much more equal to the boys.

The solution to losing the wider sisterhood is far bigger than me writing this, we need to change a culture that’s a money-making behemoth. Being kinder to ourselves, and other women generally is a step in the right direction, showing our daughters that girls are her friends. Raising each other up, complimenting one another. I often tell random women I like their hair. (My closer friends I often tell that I admire something a bit more about their character, like Tasha’s sense of knowing exactly the right things to say or how good a friend Lauren is because she cares so much) but just telling a woman next to you in the queue that you like her trousers is nicer than thinking how dreadful they would look on my flat backside.

I’ll be sure to raise both my children to treat women as friends and with respect, because they’ll learn by their mum’s example.