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.

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.