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gender balance

April 18, 2014

Many could argue that in 21st  century Britain enough has been done to create equal rights and opportunities for men and women so inequality is no longer an issue. But of course it isn’t that simple. Equal rights, access and opportunities must of course be the starting point but the next step is to look at the outcome. And there are persistent trends which demonstrate that we are still far from having a good gender balance between men and women especially in board rooms; at the top of the civil service and in Universities; in the arts (how many female conductors or museum directors are there); in the army (which as the ultimately male reserve is less surprising) and in politics.

A trend that runs in the opposite directions is that of educational achievement and it is no less concerning: girls are outperforming boys on each step of the educational ladder – at GCSE; A-level and University degree level. 61% of university leavers are woman and there are a much larger proportion of boys than girls, who leave formal education with no qualifications whatsoever.

This trend towards female outperformance is equally undesirable and the teaching profession has to concentrate on addressing this issue as a matter of urgency. But the question remains why so comparatively few women make it to the very top.

So far nobody has come up with an answer other than ‘attitude’. Women lack risk taking and confidence. In many ways the attitude that help girls to achieve better at school and university seem to hinder them later to get to the top of the tree: being conscientious, well prepared, considering the challenges and being realistic.

I have been teaching in a boys’ school for the last couple of years and there is something wonderfully refreshing about boys’ attitude to challenge: most of them love competition and the uncertainty of outcome, they reach down to reveal unknown and unpredictable strength, they don’t worry too much about failure and against better judgement from their (female) teacher manage surprising and unpredictable results.

So women and girls out there, let’s just have a go. Be a bit unrealistic; take a risk; don’t worry about not getting there straight away; get out of your comfort zones. We need to create role models and once other women understand that it is ok to try, and girls learn from their mothers that failure is part of success we will get to the top too.

In the same way I would recommend to boys to look at why girls achieve better at the more ‘normal’ level, because if you don’t pay attention, the world will be run by women one day.

 

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