International Women's Day; time to close the gap
On 8th March we will recognise International Women’s Day, a global event that calls for gender equality and celebrates the achievements of women in all walks of life.
Through the 2018 theme, #PressforProgress, this year’s International Women’s Day comes amidst the growing support, advocacy and activism of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, and will continue to encourage progress towards equal treatment of women and men throughout all professions and wider society.
But whilst all professions benefit from the increased diversity of skills and talent that comes with greater equality in representation of men and women, according to the World Economic Forum’s latest Gender Gap Report, men are still distinctively under-represented in Education and Health and Welfare, and women in Engineering, Manufacturing and Construction and ICT. They are not represented in equal numbers in business or politics and a global gender pay gap continues to exist across the world.
Alison Corner, former pupil of Lakefield College School and now a Management Consultant in New York says: “I have never felt discriminated against because of my gender, but I do certainly see how females are still very under-represented in top positions across the business world, especially within financial services. In my current organization, there are not as many females in Partner and Director level roles, and although my firm is working to find ways to keep women and support them as they move up the ladder, I think they could be doing more. Since joining my team, we have made great steps in diversity. I was the first full-time female hire to join the team (1 female to 7 males), but we have since grown to 6 females to 10 males - still a way to go, but much better.”
“The field of commerce is still very much male dominated,” says Natasha Pretorius, a former Round Square student of Bridge House, and now a Business Studies teacher at St Andrew’s College, “This is particularly evident from an African context and when looking for great business leaders, so many more are men. Business is still transforming and as educators we need to make sure that we celebrate men and woman, we need to inspire the youth to take the leap and we need to help them see that no subject should be defined by gender roles. A student's ability to learn and enjoy a subject is not based on their gender and as teachers we need to make sure that we set positive examples and help open their minds to the possibilities around them.”
This need is reflected in a recent study by Round Square in which we asked an international cross-section of students aged 11-18 to pick from a list any subjects that they thought were still considered more appropriate for boys, and any that were viewed as more appropriate for girls. The results demonstrate that whilst the gaps might be narrowing, traditional gender stereotypes still exist.
Whilst 63% of all respondents felt that Technology was a subject appropriate for female students, 56% Business and 51% Engineering, there was still a clear gender gap, with more than 70% of respondents indicating that all three subjects were considered appropriate to male students.
More encouragingly, whilst 64% of respondents thought that Science was seen to be a ‘male’ subject, 61% also felt that it was considered a ‘female’ subject. There was a similarly narrow gap for Maths and History, but the gaps widened when the students were asked to consider subjects that were perceived to be more appropriate for girls. 70% cited Literature as a subject suited to girls (vs 49% suited to boys) and 78% Art (vs 46% for boys). The gaps were smaller for other subjects such as Music and Languages.
In seeking to combat gender stereotyping, Round Square schools have adopted a broad range of successful approaches. For example at Lakefield College School in Canada a Leadership Summit brought together female role-models, from business owners to writers, to share their experiences and inspirational life stories with students. In an award-winning initiative at The Southport School, male students researched and developed their own understanding of the plight of pregnant women in developing countries, adopting their issues and raising awareness with their peers along with funding to offer tangible support. At Cobham Hall, pupils recently worked with the Royal Navy Youth Engagement Team on leadership exercises and a STEM-based challenge. As one pupil said, “The sessions we had from the Royal Navy were very insightful. I had no idea about all of the opportunities that they offer to young women.”
Last year a team of girls from Bermuda High School competed in the inaugural First Global robotics competition. Finishing 59th out of 163 teams, they were the highest placed of the six all-girls teams that competed, despite having little experience in creating a robot from scratch and having only a month to work on their project, when most teams had six.
Head of School, Linda Parker explains why they took on the challenge: “The world requires that our students graduate with many skills – they need to be able to not only think critically, but also creatively, and to communicate these thoughts clearly. We do not know what jobs will exist when our youngest students graduate from BHS. The technology that they will use has not yet been invented, and they will be asked to solve problems that have not yet been contemplated. To prepare them for this world, we need to ensure they leave with the skills of resilience, resourcefulness, communication, collaboration, and leadership.”
Through a combination of hard work, commitment, and perseverance the girls gained valuable experience in problem solving, communication, strategic planning and teamwork to add to the technical skills developed through the coding and engineering required for the competition.
These are just a few examples of many important interventions made by Round Square schools as students are about to make subject choices that will impact on their career options in future; choices that can dictate the future course of gender equality (or lack of it) in traditionally gender-dominated professions.
“To have true parity, equality and respect, we need to ensure that we teach the history of each topic with attention to the men and women involved in it, and attention to how men/women/boys and girls were affected by events” says Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini, a former pupil of Round Square School, Cobham Hall, and Founder and Executive-Director of a US-based NGO, ICAN (International Civil Society Action Network), an organisation that promotes women’s rights, peace and security.
“In Art - we see that Camille Claudel was as great a sculptor as Auguste Rodin - she literally sculpted pieces of his work. Mrs Bach turns out to have composed some of Mr. Bach's most famous pieces. In international affairs, Alfred Nobel is celebrated because of the Nobel Peace Prize, but his inspiration was Bertha Von Suttner who was a renowned pacifist and his friend/mentor. The wife of Martin Luther King was also a pioneer in non-violent protest, yet she is not celebrated as much as he is.”
“In fact, women's movements throughout history and geography of human society have been overwhelmingly non-violent in their strategies and actions, yet we learn that Gandhi, King and Mandela are the heroes. So true parity includes lifting the cloak of invisibility. It also includes ensuring that our text books depict women and men, boys and girls equally.”
This sentiment is underlined in a recent report by the Education and Employers’ charity entitled ‘Drawing the Future’ which highlighted the extent to which gender bias influences students’ career ambitions at an early age. “Textbooks convey not only knowledge but also social and political identities, and an understanding of the world,” say the researchers. “Yet around the world, in both developed and developing countries, women are repeatedly or ‘systematically’ written out of these texts, or portrayed in subservient roles. In the UK, for example, a staggering 87% of characters within textbooks were male.” The study, involving 20,000 children aged 7-11 across 20 countries, invited children to draw pictures of the careers they would like to have when they grow up. The report concluded that, “In terms of gender stereotyping and gendered career expectations, aspirations do tend to lay in stereotypical masculine/feminine roles.”
In the UK, for example, ‘social media and gaming’ was the second most popular career choice for boys (9.4%) but barely scraped the top 15 for girls (2.3%). In China, 14% of girls expressed an ambition to become an Artist, compared to just 3% of boys. In Australia, the top career choice for boys was a professional sportsman (37%), compared to 13% of girls.
The researchers concluded that the perceptions young children have about certain careers affects their aptitude and decisions around certain subjects at school: “As the research highlights, ideas about certain careers which young people have as children are often carried into their teenage, decision making years…These factors can, and do, go on to influence the academic effort children exert in certain lessons, the subjects they choose to study and the jobs they end up pursuing.”
And the influences on the youngest members of our society are not just limited to their formal education, as Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini explains: “When my girls were growing up they had Hannah Montana and other shows that depicted strong, talented, smart girls. But in virtually every instance, the boys were idiotic, comedic figures with nothing to show. It's as if we veered from Prince Charming saving Sleeping Beauty to the other extreme of him being hapless and useless…We need a re-balancing of spaces where 'education' is also present.”
With gender stereotyping setting in at so early an age, initiatives such as the Lego Club for Years 3 and 4 at Round Square school Calgary French & International School, are essential in providing role models of equal opportunity for our youngest children at a time when the curriculum has greater flexibility and the focus is on foundational learning and the development of the whole child.
Visual Arts teacher, Alex Floucault, shows the students the work of Lego artist, Alice Finch, to counter any perception that building and construction design are male domains. She says: “In a video that I show the children, Finch explains how and why she became a Lego artist. She talks about her craft, and how she creates her fabulous models. Towards the end of the video she mentions how she is proud to be a female builder. She talks about how there are not many women represented in the Lego world. She sends a powerful message to all builders, that people recognize women as equally capable. After presenting this video to students, I take a moment to celebrate the fact that there is such a great mix of students in the club, and that I love seeing when everyone is working together, because we all have valid and valuable ideas to offer. Males and females have the same capabilities, and these conversations need to be happening in the classrooms - even with something as simple and fun as Lego!”
In other examples, Round Square Schools are using new approaches such as the RS Discovery Framework to challenge what students think they know about themselves, the world around them, and their options and choices both now and in the future. The aim is to demonstrate that “there is more in them than they think” – that they already exhibit, or can develop, the skills and attitudes needed for any subject or field of work.
At Roedean School in South Africa the RS Discovery Framework language is used to help girls to evaluate their learnings from participating in a science competition. The questionnaire prompts the students to reflect on how they have employed a variety of skills – ingenuity, teamwork, ability to solve problems and tenacity – in the science expo process, celebrating their successes and learnings in these areas.
Such approaches have enormous potential to eliminate the gender assumptions driving the interest and performance of students in their subjects. And as many of these character assumptions develop in early years, Round Square is starting to see and encourage schools’ development of programmes and approaches for primary-age children which focus on character development.
Radford College in Australia has a dedicated two-week programme exploring the theme of perseverance with a variety of classroom-based activities for its youngest students from Pre-K through to Year 6. Older students are invited to reflect on the meaning of the word and encouraged to consider when they had demonstrated this in their lives or observed it in friends or family members. Students’ understanding of the concept is extended through tasks such as writing their own quote and creating a poster to illustrate their quote. Younger students examine the theme more deeply by reading stories together which explore this theme in the narrative.
In another example entitled ‘I Am Special’, from Dairnfern College in South Africa, each child was given a day during their Grade 2 year in which they were in “The Spotlight.” The child’s parents, classmates and teacher prepared presentations to learn about that child’s interests and background through which the positive and unique qualities of each child were highlighted. Their strengths, their story and their special value to the class and their families were made explicit and celebrated. The pupils and teacher in the class wrote and read out individual letters that shared poignant thoughts on why that child was special. These were then mounted in a file for the child to take home and cherish. Using the framework of the RS IDEALS this activity celebrates diversity, equal opportunity, fair treatment, leadership and capacity for adventure, shifting the focus from traditional school constructs to a celebration of the unique contribution and qualities of every student.
In order to give every child an opportunity that encourages development of personal aspirations and belief in their own capacity for achievement, it’s vital that we expose and challenge gender stereotypes in all their guises to lay the path for a gender neutral future.
Taking our lead from the initiatives developing throughout the RS network, perhaps the key to this is to move away from the perception that certain subjects are more appropriate for particular genders, and towards an understanding that the development of character, skills, attitudes, innate ability and personal values will underpin a student’s ability to flourish in their chosen field, regardless of gender.
SHARE YOUR STORY
If you are an Alumnus of a Round Square school and would like to share your story as part of our project, we would love to hear from you! Please get in touch via our web site at www.roundsquare.org
JOIN US AT THE GLOBAL FORUM ON GIRLS’ EDUCATION II
Sanam Naraghi-Anderlini will be speaking for Round Square at the Global Forum on Girls’ Education II in Washington DC from 18-20 June 2018 where we look forward to continuing the conversation about “Closing the Gender Gap”.
The conference headlines with a commitment that, “the most powerful message a girl can receive is there are no limits to what she can pursue. Regardless of what problems she wants to solve when she grows up, she needs to know nothing stands in her way.”
Anticipating attendance of over 1,000 delegates from more than 25 countries, the Forum promises to be a multi-cultural gathering of educators that play a critical role in empowering girls with the tools and an informed perspective to reach their full potential and become influential contributors and leaders in our complex, changing world.
If you would like to sign the Conference Pledge you can do so here.
Round Square schools that wish to join us at the Global Forum on Girls’ Education are invited to register here.