Stop saying “I fail to see the problem”. Why gender stereotyping is about so much more than pink and blue. 

I’m a woman in Technology and after realising that the vast vast majority of CVs I receive are from males, I started investigating the problem. It went all the way back to kids.
I started working with a school so that I could try to understand, first hand what was blocking the flow of girls into Tech and what I found out highlighted that we need to be noticing and acting on gender stereotyping messages from the day our children are born. We need to be noticing and acting on it from all angles – school, media and at home as their parents. What we don’t need to be doing is continuing to “fail to see the problem”.

Some of the girls I was working with thought technology “is for boys” because “they are good at computers”.  One extremely bright girl who’d been picked out to work with me because she excelled at maths and computing, said she’d rather be an interior designer because Technology “looked boring”.

So I followed the trail and you know, she was right. Just Google Jobs in Technology to see for yourself.

I have worked in Technology for almost 15 years and images like this even make me want to re-train. Notice the predominant colour on most of those images? Do they remind you of anything? It’s these very subtle, but very real messages that girls and boys are getting from quite literally the day they are born.

Imagine you’d only ever worn orange clothes, you slept in an orange bedroom with pictures of oranges on the walls. You played with orange toys and most of the books you read were orange. You might start to wonder if all this was normal – but then you went to school and all the other people like you had orange bedrooms and played with orange toys too. They all had orange parties where they did the same orangey things you did at your party. You went to the toy shop and wondered how you’d choose a toy – you needn’t have worried because at the toy shop all the orange toys and all the green toys were all separated out neatly – and all the orange toys had pictures of people just like you on them! All wearing orange. You didn’t even have to go down the green aisle.

At school someone offered you something green that looked really cool…but the rest of the people like you said that you were an orange so you shouldn’t play with that because look – in the toy shop – that person is not like you! That toy isn’t for you. Look there – that one is for you. The one with the orange person on it.

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Many years went by where you learned from TV, movies, books, magazines, your friends and even your parents how orange people were supposed to behave, what they should do and think, how they should act. Even your nickname was “orange”.

You wanted to be a proper orange so you behaved like a proper orange, just like they said. In fact even some of your clothes reminded you what oranges were supposed to be like, in case you forgot.

When you grew up you needed a job and looked around. Some jobs were on TV and only being done by green people so you knew you definitely wouldn’t want to do those. Some jobs looked pretty cool but when you looked at the careers fliers, even the fliers were green or were full of pictures of green people – so you knew that those jobs were not for you either. You know how to tell – just look at the picture – like you’ve always been taught – look at the people on the advert! That’s for a green person. Read the words in the job description – those are green words. You should know this by now- it’s been almost 20 years, come on, here are your jobs – over here. Jobs for orange people just like you.

Didn’t that sound like an insane story? Did you read this as though the orange person was a male or a female? Read it again as the other gender and substitute orange for pink or blue. You’re right, it is an insane story. But the thing that’s insane about it is that it’s happening right now in real life, over and over again. These images are current and if you think I have just chosen ones that support my point then please, I urge you to go and check for yourself. This insane play is being enacted in houses, schools, shops and companies all over the western world, right now. You might even be acting it out yourself.

So that’s what came from my tracing the root cause of the my pipeline issue in Technology.

But it’s much more sinister than me not having enough females applying for jobs. It’s also the cause of the low self esteem and low confidence in girls because of how they are repeatedly told how they are “supposed to be” everywhere they turn. And that low confidence and low self esteem coupled with the primary carer status of women when they become mothers, leads to a huge gender pay gap (on average male managers earn £12,000 more than female managers) and only a quarter of boardrooms having any women in them at all, let alone a 50/50 split. The CEO status of women paints an even bleaker picture. Do you see the problem now?

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Chronic gender stereotyping is also the root cause of an extreme reluctance for men to share their feelings and seek help. And that’s results in a three times higher rate of suicide in men than women. In fact the number 1 recommendation suggested by the Samaritans is to address the gender inequalities in relation to suicide risk. Is that a problem worth recognising?

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The thing that’s propagating the gender pay gap, the inequality in boardrooms, the persistently high suicide rate in men is not dolls or dinosaurs or blue or pink. The problem is the sheer dismissal of the problem. A complete refusal to look a bit further into the future and see the same story repeating itself year after year, decade after decade.

It is comments like this all over social media “my kids play with dolls AND dinosaurs, I don’t see the problem”.

I don’t see the problem. I fail to see the problem.

The problem is only 21% women in STEM. It has barely changed since the 1970s.

The problem is that the boardrooms of the companies who write the job descriptions and take the pictures and make the movies and TV shows and publish the books and decide who to put on the packages and what colour to make them and what to put on the tshirts…are not at all reflective of the world we live in.

The problem is 3x higher suicide rate in men.

Don’t fail to see the problem. See the problem and act on it.

And acting on it doesn’t mean dressing your kids in hessian sacks and calling them Quinoa and Zort and making them play with only primary coloured blocks. Don’t resort to ridiculous comments like that to get a cheap laugh and a few likes.

Act on it by noticing. Just notice what your children are watching, and wearing and reading. Notice the messages they’re picking up. And notice whether you are OK with them. If you’re not OK with them, do something. Talk to your kids, change the channel, walk past the toy, don’t buy the t-shirt. That’s all you have to do.

Sometimes small steps aren’t enough and I think the furore in the media about some brands “going too far” in either direction is just what we needed to start the conversation. It worked, we’re all talking about it!

I guarantee that this media flurry will result in parents talking to their kids about gender stereotypes, even if it’s only “just because you wear pink doesn’t mean you can’t do anything you like my girl, ok?” And “just because you like guns and lego doesn’t mean you can’t cry or talk about your feelings son, you know that don’t you?”

And that, I believe, is the perfect outcome.

Join the conversation in our Facbook Group Parents for gender equality 

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