While we like to think that we treat everyone the same, there are still some barriers to be broken down when it comes to the numbers of men and women who study STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) subjects.
Obviously, this is a problem that is important not just for us to recognise but also to learn from, and to find a way to solve. The result is not just an imbalance in the type of people that a certain job attracts, but also a smaller pool of employees for a company to draw from, as well as a reduced ability for firms to continue to grow and innovate if they depend on the same type of people from the same background to think outside the box.
This powerful ad from Verizon, a telecommunications company in the United States, encourages us not only to facilitate women to pursue a career in science by fostering their love of the subjects when they're young, but also to think about the language we use when we address them. Even the most casual throw-away phrase can be taken the wrong way, or can reinforce and pass on a bias that we might not recognise we have.
While the advertisement does quote statistics from the National Science Foundation in the United States, a recent survey by Accenture in The Examiner shows that we have similar problems here in Ireland too. Of the 400 second-level girl students surveyed, as well as more than 200 parents with daughters in second-level education, a further 200 teachers and 150 woman aged 18 to 23, almost half felt that the STEM subjects are more suited to males than females.
There are fewer notable role models for young girls who are interested in science, but with the development of technology and the fact that children are surrounded by it from a young age, that interest may begin to grow, and should be encouraged. As the advertisement says, "isn't it time we told her she's pretty brilliant, too?".