Woman Spreading

Following yet another set of excellent ‘A’ level and GCSE results for girls, Professor Alan Smithers, Advisor to the Commons Education Select Committee, wrote in the Times of his conclusion that ‘girls are cleverer than boys.’ 

However, if women are the cleverer sex, why do so few hold positions of responsibility in politics, business and education?

  • 650 MPs were elected in the General Election of 2019: 220 were female. Five of the twenty-two members of the current Cabinet are women.
  • The number of female FTSE 100 CEOs has increased since 2012 from four to five. 
  • 63% of secondary teaching staff are female, but only 38% of secondary headteachers are women. 

Some reasons for women’s apparent underachievement.

  • The portrayal of female and male roles and characteristics in the media. 
  • Gender bias established early in life – research shows that from the age of seven years, children assume that boys are cleverer than girls.
  • Different attitudes towards the genders – females are praised for diligence and hard work: males for brilliance and talent. 
  • Contrasting male / female social behaviour – men boast and compete when bonding; women admit vulnerability to bond. Such different behaviours can lead to misunderstandings: women assume men are competent, and men think women are admitting inadequacy.

Possible solutions: –

In schools

Sexism and sexual harassment must be taken as seriously as racism and racial abuse.

Schools must raise pupils’ awareness of the way that the different genders are presented in the media.

Schools must ensure that small groups of boys do not dominate lessons and monopolise teacher attention.

In the home.

Parents should set an example by sharing childcare and domestic responsibility, and avoid perpetuating stereotypes. (Daughters are sensible, sons are risk-takers. Sons are sporty, daughters are pretty. Daughters are kind, sons are excused.) 

Sons should be taught to respect girls; to challenge sexist attitudes and work alongside women to promote gender equality.

In the workplace

Women and men are judged by different standards. Male confidence is often mistaken for competence. If a woman tries to compete by being similarly assertive, their behaviour is interpreted as aggressive and unpleasant.

Employers must be aware of the tendency to always appoint similar individuals, and ensure that judgements about employees’ competences are based on concrete evidence rather than self-reported. 

Employers should think about how they describe female employees: attractive, chatty, neurotic. Would they use the same words to describe a male employee?

Fact = Women have to work twice as hard as men to prove themselves. They cannot afford to wing it in the way a man might do, and preparation is key. Women’s contributions in the workplace will be challenged and scrutinised more than that of male colleagues, so they must be absolutely certain of their ground. 

Not everyone, male or female, feels comfortable in a traditional alpha-male environment, but it has proved almost impossible to divert the balance of power away from this small group. Women have to access positions of authority if they are going to be able to use their intelligence to benefit future generations.

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