When I clicked onto BBC News last week, an article by Phillipa Goodrich grabbed my attention. Part of the article read that Dawn Bonfield, a former chief executive of the Women’s Engineering Society, recently ran a display stand at a large airshow and made a point of asking young girls who visited whether they had considered engineering as a career. She found that most of them just instantly switched off and replied in the negative, and only a handful showed any interest. Ms Goodrich went on to say that other data shows 49% of state schools have no girls who study A-level physics.
There are always exceptions of course, but in my opinion girls on the whole are just not interested in physics or engineering. These subjects favour the male brain’s attributes of logical problem-solving and spatial awareness. I remember almost crying with boredom in school while being made to sit through physics and chemistry lessons focusing for example on the law of the lever and the Avagadro constant, which as usual went right over my head. Ditto for maths, where I discovered I was appallingly number illiterate. There was one extremely clever girl who did enjoy A-level physics, applied maths and chemistry. She went on to study Medicine at Oxford, but she was the only girl out of the whole sixth form (I went to an all-girls secondary school) who took these subjects, and she had the teacher all to herself.
I take my hat off to any girl who has this kind of mathematical brain. Most of us females are better at English (language and literature), learning foreign languages, sociology, psychology, art and music. We are caring, nurturing beings who are interested in how our fellow humans think, talk and feel. Men like building things and want to take everything apart to see how it works (my husband even took my gas firelighter apart once in order to check out its innards). Women on the whole just accept that it works and then get on with the rest of their lives. Men and women are wired differently, and thank goodness we are.
Of course there is another aspect to this article as well. Girls could be hesitant to take up a career dominated by men, feeling perhaps that they would need to work twice as hard as a man to compete and be accepted. Once again I applaud any girl who takes up engineering as a career, but what happens when she wants to have a baby? Does she give it all up to be a mother, or feel guilty trying to juggle motherhood with a career that she’s studied hard for (how is it that men don’t have this issue?) Will she in fact be paid the same as a man for doing a similar job? There is also the problem of being able to climb the corporate ladder. I wonder if women still come across the ‘glass ceiling’ effect? Do men still have a problem taking orders from women, or has that died a welcome death? All I can say is thankfully I’m retired now, my kids are grown, and I do not have to compete with anyone!