There’s an interesting riddle which goes along the lines of:
A father and his son are in a car accident. The father dies at the scene and the son is rushed to the hospital.
At the hospital the surgeon looks at the boy and says, “I can’t operate on this boy, he is my son.” How can this be?
Did you figure it out?
The surgeon is his mother.
On hearing the riddle, many people are confused, or take a few seconds to find the answer. The reasoning behind the delay is something that you have likely never even thought about: ingrained gender stereotype. It’s the reason why when you hear of a surgeon, many immediately picture a man, instead of a woman.
Gender stereotypes are defined between the ages of 5 and 7 years old.
When a class of 22 children between the ages of 5 and 7 in the UK were asked to draw a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot, 61 pictures were drawn of men and only 5 were female. The powerful two minute film depicting this was shot on location at Whitstable Junior School in Kent and captures how, “early on in their education, children already define career opportunities as male and female”. After drawing their images, the children are stunned to see that the women they’d originally been in the classroom drawing images with, are actually a firefighter, surgeon and a fighter pilot.
“Not one person, apart from one girl, put the firefighter down as a female.” – Lucy, Firefighter, London Fire Brigade
Exposing children to a variety of positive role models at a young age is important, especially as girls decide to leave STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Maths) by the age of 11, when they’re in an education system where the choice of subjects severely limits their options for working in other fields later. To encourage more girls to consider a future career in STEM you need to inspire them when they’re young and provide them with tangible, visible role models, to prevent ingrained gender stereotypes from developing.
The British MP Ben Howlett recently spoke regarding the need to encourage girls to consider a career in STEM, “In a survey of girls in 2010 deciding the top 3 careers that they’d choose for themselves, the most popular answers were teachers, hairdressers and beauticians. Traditional female roles. We have to ask ourselves why physicists and engineers weren’t in this list. Only 3% of engineering degree applicants are girls and 6% of the UK engineering workforce are female.”
These are important stats to consider and highlights the importance of the #RedrawTheBalance campaign to show young girls that they too can achieve their career goal, and be a pilot, firefighter or surgeon if they want to be.
The female fighter pilot, firefighter and surgeon also each give an insight into their professional experiences, describing the barriers they overcame and the challenges they still face, doing what many perceive as a man’s job.
On why she became a pilot: “I decided to be a pilot quite a long time ago. I was sitting in a school classroom and the teacher was talking about the countries in the world, saying that there were so many and no-one gets to visit them all. I was feeling quite defiant that day and decided I would, and to do that I had to become a pilot.”
On what advice she’d give other girls wanting to be a pilot: “In my opinion what you need to become a pilot is to be enthusiastic, passionate, driven and to be able. None of those traits are gender specific.” – Lauren, Pilot, Royal Air Force
On how she feels about International Women’s Day: “Now more than ever we need to celebrate women’s achievements and keep pushing women forward. I think in the last few years we’ve probably gone backwards. The kids’ reaction today, although it was great working with them, not one person, apart from one girl, put the firefighter down as a female. That one girl put all the professions down as female, which was great to see, even though it was only one person. I’m really proud of her. So now more than ever we do need International Women’s Day.” – Lucy, Firefighter, London Fire Brigade.
“Now more than ever we need to celebrate women’s achievements and keep pushing women forward. I think in the last few years we’ve probably gone backwards.”
On what made her become a surgeon: “I enjoyed surgery and medicine at medical school. I considered all options but I thought surgery was the hardest so I’d go for that first.”
On the call for gender parity: “I feel passionate about the issue of gender parity in surgery. I think that patients deserve to have a wide variety of doctors to choose from in all fields of the profession. So I think that it’s really important that women are represented in all sub-specialties. It’s also particularly important when you’re looking at expertise, now more than half of medical students are women. So if you’re only picking surgeons from 40% of the intake, you’re going to lose out on skilled surgeons.” – Tamzin, Surgeon, NHS
The Inspiring The Future charity is urging people to share the film with friends and colleagues to raise awareness of just how much needs to be done to tackle gender stereotyping, using the hashtag #RedrawTheBalance.
Volunteers can sign up here to make a difference: www.inspiringthefuture.org and pledge just one hour to talk to children about their career. Their ambition is to see women from a wide range of occupations going into state schools collectively talking to 250,000 young women.