The STEM of Gender Bias

We all know how to make small talk. Granted, the exact nature of the way we communicate might vary depending on formalities, but whether you’re at a wedding, family celebration or simply out for a night on the tiles, the same question will be asked of all of us at some point. We know it’s coming…


Who says that girls need to stick to a plan?
"What do you do for a living?"
"What’s your job?"
"Where do you work?"

Having recently landed my first proper job at an agency, I was eager to finally be able to say, “I work in PR.”  What I didn’t really think about was the inevitable follow up, “What kind?”

As soon as I explained that I work in the technical PR industry - working with clients that design products for all kinds of industries from water distribution to food manufacture - the look on my acquaintance’s face started to shift. In under five seconds, I’d gone from the most glamorous and interesting person in the room, to the girl who works in PR for sewerage systems.

I was warned by my Account Director that this might happen, who after decades in this sector has experienced the ‘job-off’ (my new term for this shaming occurrence) numerous times. Therefore, I was ready to explain how important the technology industries actually are, from the widely familiar telecommunications and mobile companies, right down to the power networks that distribute our electricity. To put it simply, without technology our daily lives would grind to a halt.

And, just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m only suitable for a role in beauty or lifestyle PR...

I enjoy my job

At Armitage Communications I learn new facts every day such as how things work, what the future might look like if current trends continue and what needs to change in order for the UK to survive in the global market. Take the latest report from the Institution of Engineering and Technology, for example.  It highlights the big six industries which are likely to have a large impact on the UK’s economy, but only if certain steps are taken to make the most of this significant opportunity.

The big six are New Power Networks, Space, Cyber Security, 3D Printing, Food Security and Robotics. All of these industries have a similar problem of needing more engineers with the right skill set. We have already blogged about how schools should teach lessons to prepare students for the technical roles of the future, so it is interesting that the IET has also highlighted this problem. Thankfully, we are starting to see signs of improvement with competitions such as the FIRST LEGO League (FLL®) taking place across the UK.

There’s still a long way to go, however, and another significant issue that the IET rightly emphasised was the need for diversity within the engineering workforce, especially in terms of gender. The Women’s Engineering Society states that only 7% of the engineering workforce are female, and we believe that one reason behind this is our heavily gender-biased toy industry. Kira Cochrane of The Guardian aptly describes  it as ‘rigid spheres of pink and blue’.

The square root of sex segregation


Colour continues to be used to differentiate gender

Toys that are marketed to little girls include baby dolls, Barbie, My Little Pony, tea sets and princess dresses and not much else, preparing them for a life of domesticity, motherhood and a preoccupation with appearance. This is the 21st century though and women have a choice – they can work, be mums, go to university, all at the same time if they so desire. They can also choose to become engineers, scientists or technology specialists.

But toys don’t seem to encourage this, and when you consider that gender identity occurs between the ages of around three and five years old, it would seem that a change in this market is called for - to rectify the long-lasting impression that girls should be girls, and boys should be boys. Whatever that means.

The aforementioned Lego group might be encouraging young children to solve real world problems with the help of technology, but their recent plight to sell more Lego to girls in the form of Lego Friends has been the crutch of many jokes about gender bias in the media. The Heartlake Hair Salon, Puppy Training and Bunny and Babies sets all scream gender stereotyping, and a disregard of Lego instructions resulting in a robot is one way to express how little girls actually want to play with female astronaut, pirate and scientist pieces. Girls don’t need pink to want to build.

It’s refreshing then to hear about movements such as ‘Let Toys Be Toys’ and games being sold such as Goldieblox and Roominate. These both involve construction and the development of STEM skills through hands-on problem solving and are aimed primarily at girls. Both use a wide range of colours in their products and, in the words of Goldieblox CEO Debbie Sterling, ‘aim to disrupt the pink aisle.’

A working example

In fact, at Armitage Communications, a lot of what we do revolves around the technology sector. With such gender-biased attitudes common, you may be surprised to learn that there are three female staff engaged in the daily production of technical and engineering-focused materials for our clients. Whether you’re a man or a woman, tech is a graspable subject. Plenty more would realise this if the education sector and toy companies alike banded together to encourage STEM skills, regardless of whether children are called Barbie or Ken.

Do you have what it takes to work in tech PR?

Calling all tech-minded ladies and gentlemen. We are currently looking for a Junior Account Executive with a talent for creative writing and a natural curiosity for learning and explaining how things work.

If this sounds like you then email and attach your C.V along with 200 words about how you’d convince someone who just gave you the 'job-off' that Tech PR is actually a fascinating, mentally-stimulating and up-to-the minute industry.

Image 1 Credit: 'It was supposed to be a juice bar' by fickle
Image 2 Credit: 'Pink & blue lego' by Janet McKnight