Thursday, January 10

It's not cool to be clever at the moment, especially as a girl

More I read about the educational system here in the UK, the more I worry. Why is being clever and intelligent considered to be bad? I quote from this story about why girls don't take up Physics.

For the past two decades, female students have accounted for only one-fifth of those taking the subject at A-level. It is the fourth most popular subject for boys, yet slips to 19th in the rankings for girls. According to a recent study by the Institute of Physics, using information provided by the National Pupil Database, 49% of state co-educational schools in England did not send any girls to study physics at A-level in 2011. By contrast, girls were almost two and a half times more likely to take the subject at A-level if they were at a single-sex school – a finding that suggests there might be an ingrained cultural perception in co-educational establishments that physics is somehow "not for girls".

This is sad indeed. The problem is those little shits (boys!)

So what are the girls saying?

"It's not cool to be clever at the moment, especially as a girl," adds Williams. "Boys don't mind being thought of as geeks, but girls do. I do English lit as well, and I'm the only one in the class who also takes physics. Everyone in the class was kind of like, 'You do physics?'" She curls her lip in disgust. "But we're good because we've got a whole group of friends [doing physics as well]."

These school kids are stupid, seriously stupid. Who will be earning more and having more fun? the idiots or the smarts? Why would you not look up to the smarts?

So what can one do?

The importance of a supportive network of friends taking the same subject is key. But it is also, as Alice points out, a question of seeing more positive role models on television and in schools. Although there are prominent male presenters in popular science – Brian Cox,David Attenborough – there are hardly any female counterparts. And when female scientists do make it on to the pages of newspapers, or into television studios, the way they are presented can be extremely patronising. A 2010 paper by academics at the University of Cardiff examined 51 interviews with scientists, eight of whom were women, pulled from a sample of 12 UK national papers in 2006. Half of the profiles of the women referred to their clothing, physique or hairstyle, compared with 21% of the profiles of men. The male scientists interviewed were often used to signal gravitas, while women were more likely to be said to make science "accessible" or "sexy".

<sighs> here we go again…But the article ends with a spot of brightness

And yet there are signs that the culture is changing. It's not just the clever young women I meet at Lampton who signal the dissolution of previously entrenched ideas, but also those physicists currently working in postgraduate fields. Aki Matsushima, a 26-year-old studying for a PhD in quantum physics at Imperial College, London, insists that the lifestyle of a research scientist "is very flexible and actually accommodating, and in that respect it can be really good for women who have other responsibilities, like childcare. There's been a lot of encouragement and funding to get more women in, and once you're in there's no discrimination. In fact, there's lots of encouragement."

However, Matsushima acknowledges that the lack of female professors is a problem. She, like Donald, attended an all-girl school and then chose to attend a single-sex college at Cambridge. "I knew the course was going to be all men," she explains, "so I applied to a women's college so I could hang out with girls as well." But once Matsushima had made it into the male-dominated world of physics, she found it was – and continues to be – an extremely fair environment, with no gender discrimination.

"Maybe at lunchtime you're hanging out with a load of guys talking about computer games, but that's about it," she says. This year, Matsushima was a finalist in the BBC's Masterchef and came into contact with some professional chefs who told her she would have to work "twice as hard" to make it as a woman. "In cooking, there is a kind of discrimination internally," she says. "That hasn't happened to me in physics."

We need more of this, more women stepping up and the organisations being gender neutral. It is not easy. Over the past 10 odd years, ever since I got into a situation that I would be hiring, I have encouraged the recruitment agencies and HR folks to send more women into the mix. It has been a struggle. For the front office roles, for the sales roles, there is a dearth of good women but it is getting better. For example, right now, my team has a balanced gender ratio, and believe you me, it took a shed load of effort. The pressure to pick the first half way decent candidate (who usually is male) is huge due to business pressures. So to delay hiring, to reach out into the women networks, to insist that for every 2 male cv’s I get, I need a female cv. It slows down the process hugely…

one hopes…

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