One of the best things about our society is that there is a real willingness to right historical wrongs, if necessary with proactive measures that would not be required in an ideal world but that can be justified by the urgency of the need to rectify an imbalance that may not only be unfairly holding back a certain group of people but perhaps even society as a whole. However, I suspect that at the same time this is also one of the worst things about our society. As the expression goes: “It’s complicated!”

An example of this is to be found in this month’s magazine. To coincide with International Women’s Day on March 8, on pages 10 to 15 there is a series of articles and interviews that focus on the fact that, despite years of promotion and initiatives, women remain underrepresented in technical and scientific - known as STEM - subjects. In certain technical fields, such as computer science or telecommunications, females do not even make up 20% of degree students.

It seems there are multiple reasons for this and a number of hypotheses have been put forward to explain the deficit, from cultural pressures exerted on girls from an early age to young women being put off by the masculinised environments to be found in such subjects. I’ll leave it to you to read the feature and make up your own mind.

Personally, I can’t help wondering that it might just be the case that many girls and young women choose not to do these subjects. It is not that they are blocked or discouraged from doing these subjects so much as they simply don’t fancy them and would prefer to invest their time, efforts and resources into alternative areas that they find more attractive.

To pick out two quotes from the experts consulted in the feature in this magazine, Josefina Antonijuan, vice-rector of social responsibility and equality at Catalonia’s Polytechnic University, says “female underrepresentation is unfair and must be reversed”, while educational researcher Mireia Usart says “it is very difficult to convince those [young women] who are not at all attracted to this [tech] world”.

This made me think of my daughter, who is 19 and this year began studying fashion design. She has always been a creative person with a strong artistic bent who enjoys making things, and so her decision made a lot of sense. She says she loves the course and she spends a lot of her free time either drawing or on the sewing machine. She may be studying a subject traditionally associated with females but there is no suggestion that she was culturally pressured into it. Nor was she discouraged from choosing a more technical or scientific subject, rather those areas do not seem to interest her much and I have no doubt that she would be miserable if she was forced to do computer programming, for example.

It’s not that there aren’t women in STEM, and the numbers are rising all the time, albeit slowly. I wouldn’t be surprised if at some point in the future parity between the genders in this area may be reached, it just might take longer than some people would like. Surely the key is not to force young women into these subjects but rather to clear the way for them to study whatever they like, whether scientific or not? The argument about the negative effects of cultural pressure on women , or men for that matter, can work both ways.


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