The trouble with girls...?Posted: 11th of June 2015 by
So, Sir Tim Hunt, a Royal Society fellow has resigned from his position within its faculty of life sciences at UCL after he received criticism for saying:
Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticise them they cry […] and it's very disruptive to the science. I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult. "
Females (note female – not girl, which is a term used to refer to an adolescent female, so hardly likely to be appropriate for discussing an adult female in the workplace) are significantly under-represented in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) careers and qualifications. This is despite statistics which show that at GCSE level female students of the sciences outperform their male counterparts at A* – C.
In response to this, last year the government launched ‘Your Life’, a major campaign aimed at increasing the number of young people, especially females that study STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers. Jack Doherty from the Ministerial and Public Communications Division of the Department for Education said that:
Evidence suggests that females are less likely to choose science as a career, this is something the government want to change.”
To tackle the issue,
up to £135 million over the current spending review period has been invested to provide a range of support to schools to help improve the quality and provision of science teaching, including ideas on how to remove negative and inaccurate perceptions of science with regards to females.”
What a disappointment then that such an influential male scientist would come out and say these things, suggesting that where males are rational, females are all emotion, incapable of applying themselves to a task without being distracted by or being a distraction to their male co-workers.
Perceptions of women in science
According to People Management’s findings, “UK students are shunning STEM subjects because they view them as too hard, as boring and as male dominated; with 44 % of 14 – 18 year olds claiming to find STEM subjects boring and 34 % of girls believing that careers advice is pushing young women into non STEM subjects.”
Despite the fact that more students than ever are being accepted onto STEM courses in HE, the number of females choosing this pathway has remained disproportionately low. The question is why? According to the House of Commons, Science and Technology report only 17% of professors for STEM subjects are female and females are under-represented at senior levels across every discipline.
The report is also quick to point out that there is no one explanation for the lack of gender diversity in STEM careers. One explanation, which is related to early academic STEM careers, is that these careers often involve short-term contracts and a lack of security that comes with having to relocate to take positions and all of this often at the time when females may be considering starting a family. The report does emphasise that “encouraging young girls to choose science is commendable, but wasted if once chosen they are disproportionately disadvantaged in scientific careers compared with men.”
Without female representation in research and development the gender imbalances in scientific research careers follow through to product manufacturing and many other areas. For example, according to the science and technology research findings:
- Until 2011 car safety testing and design was based on an average American male crash test dummy– no female crash test dummy existed.
- The information that we have regarding the effects of environmental pollution all relates to men
- Calculations on radiation dosages are based on an absorption model of a middle-aged man.
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