I sat with my little girl at the weekend as she watched her favourite show on TV, being 4 years old she is full of energy and questions so I was thankful of the break. As the adverts started and the never ending procession of new toys, games and little plastic things for me to stand on rolled through the screen I braced myself for the usual questions, ready to hit repeat on my usual answers:
‘Daddy, I haven’t got that one, can i get that one? I want one of them’
‘If you’re a good girl then Santa might bring one at Christmas but you have to be a good girl’
This went on for quite a few minutes, they know how to drag the adverts out these days, and for my daughter the ads are as good as the show. Then suddenly there was silence. I looked up at the screen assuming that the signal had gone but it hadn’t, instead the advert was for a car and the model demonstrating the toy was a boy.
‘Don’t you want one of them’ I asked.
‘No, they’re for boys, I don’t want boy toys’ she responded.
As we sat for a little while longer I started to pay attention to the adverts a little more, it became clear that adverts that had boys demonstrating the toys were not attractive to my daughter. It just so happened that the adverts were for building blocks, a car, a stunt track, a radio controlled car, all falling into a gender stereotype. In real life and scaled up, i.e. not the fantasy world of toys, these things would all be related to engineering.
This highlighted 2 points for me.
- The media have a huge role to play in gender diversity. I’m sure that if these products were advertised with girls playing with the products then my daughter would be interested in them, and more likely to be interested in cars etc. So would she be more likely to consider a career in engineering in the future?
- My daughter started school recently, already she is starting to associate and show genuine interest in activities and objects that are not toys or playing games. At what age should we engage young people with the concept of engineering as a ‘job’ or ‘work’?
The world in which we live is changing constantly and the speed and means with which children learn are very different to anything we have ever experienced before. My children know more about smart phones than I do. They can do things that I cannot fathom with technology. Kids are smart. Kids are brave. Kids are becoming more aware and more indepedendent. But despite this they are still influenced heavily. I genuinely believe that to achieve gender diversity and equality in engineering, and in most industries for that matter, there needs to be early engagement and a collaborative effort led by educational establishments and supported by parents and the media. We need to move away from gender stereotyping as far as possible and promote diversity, even in the choice of toys. If we can support and provide positive influence from 3 of the 4 most visible and influential groups in a child life then we stand a chance at achieving a better equilibrium.
What do you think?