This time of year is always an invitation to reflect, marked by one poignant date in particular: today, March 8th. Frankly, I always feel conflicted. On the one hand, ‘International Women’s Day’ (IWD22) should be uplifting. A day of celebration, a day of pride. But it also inversely somewhat feels marred by highlighting just how much further we must go to reach gender equality and #BreakTheBias.
COVID-19 has set women’s equality back by twenty-five years. Last year, women effectively worked for free from November 14th until the end of the year due to the gender pay gap, and based on current trends the gender pay gap will not equalise for another century. Days like #IMD22 always act as the annual call for advocacy, change, and action for accelerating gender parity, and ensuring that all professionals of tomorrow have every opportunity to fulfil their potential, in whatever sector they choose, free from social restraint and bias.
We, as educators, play a fundamental role in this. The Careers & Higher Education Department at Cardiff Sixth Form College is fully aware of our substantial role in supporting young women in transitioning to their next steps. Here is our pledge for how we will strive to make our impact:
Bespoke career counselling
To us, gender equality is most certainly the end goal, but gender equity must be the means. Our departmental objective is: “Outstanding guidance tailored to the individual’s needs and aspirations.” Therefore, by advising and counselling individual students fairly in accordance with their respective (and often, intersectional) needs, we strive to offer equivalent guidance to all. No matter how students may identify, be it by sex or other protected characteristic, they will receive bespoke counselling, free from bias and full of compassion.
Our success in delivering tailored career, employability, and higher education support can be seen in the statistics: in 2020, for the first time, the number of our female graduating students choosing STEM degrees (66.27%) exceeded our male students (60.76%). This is a fantastic achievement and evidences how CSFC students feel empowered, confident, and able to buck the trend when accessing higher education.
From time immemorial, women in STEM have been on the back foot compared to their male counterparts, and as such, often completely discouraged, due to societal and cultural stereotypes. Historically, STEM fields have been dominated by men, which has led to a dearth of women scientists and engineers; for example, UCAS reports that only 23.5% of Engineering graduates are female, and even lower at 19.4% in Computer Science. How can schools and colleges help young women to retain their interest and motivation in STEM subjects and pursue this passion in their adult life?
In a similar vein, it is worrying that one in five male professionals would feel uncomfortable with having a female line manager, as they would be ‘distant’ or ‘fragile’. Even more troubling is the 14% of women who would also feel the same! Education is the key to breaking stereotypes, and through a series of upcoming careers-themed PSE lessons, we will educate students to combat stereotypes, and bring about social and cultural change. To overhaul the workplace of tomorrow,
we need to educate the students of today; therefore, by broadening everyone’s mind-sets, we can help to narrow the gender gap.
Developing a work-ready mindset
Our department does not only focus on helping students access the immediate next stage, but also prepares all students with skills for life. Only working to attract young women and non-binary students to STEM is not enough; educators need to facilitate the long-term removal of (or, short-term successful navigation around) any barriers (that men would otherwise not encounter). It is up to schools, colleges, and universities to equip them with the skills to thrive, and, frankly, stay within the industry.
Concerningly, women make up only 6% and 15% of senior leaders at Samsung and Amazon respectively. Not only are women underrepresented in technical roles, but are increasingly overlooked in senior leadership roles within tech. Such vertical segregation drives women to leave their positions in tech, citing stalled careers and lack of access to creative or leadership roles as primary factors.
We need more women in positions of senior leadership to influence decision making and not perpetuate gender bias. Therefore, upcoming career-focused Enrichment Workshops will focus on developing the key transferable skills of leadership, networking, and developing a growth mind-set which, in tandem, will have a massive impact on women’s retention and acceleration in the workplace.
The impact that alumni can have on a student’s self-efficacy and career readiness cannot be understated. Hearing motivational messages from teachers and counsellors will never be enough; nothing can replace the personal touch from the experiential anecdotes and first-hand feedback from the very people who were only just recently in their shoes. Alumni with shared interests and identities can be powerful influencers to demonstrably prove what is possible by sharing real-life stories and providing that vital social capital to continue to propagate professional success.
Ms Parkinson (Alumni Manager) and I are excited to be in the beginning stages of launching a range of short-term and medium-term mentorship opportunities to support both current and ex-CSFC students in the next stages of their professional journeys. These opportunities will be available to anyone at CSFC; however, supplementary events dedicated to under-represented groups, such as female and non-binary students, will be designed to help such mentees to jump over the multiple other obstacles they will face in their futures, and hopefully, level the playing field.
This year’s #IWD22 theme is all about working towards a world free of stereotypes and discrimination. Together, we will celebrate difference and welcome diversity. Let us congratulate all of our female students, past, present, and future, on their fantastic successes so far, and let’s continue to collectively #BreakTheBias.
Hayley Bendle, Director of Careers & Higher EducationCategories: Staff Blog