Lets imagine you have a traditional boy’s school that has opened itself up to become co-Ed. They were up against it because the school has a reputation for having a very narrow focus on science and maths and in addition has a legacy of exclusivity. At the moment its probably around 15% girls but it is declining. This is the corporate IT world.
Now imagine you have another modern school which has no uniforms – as well as a focus on science and technology it also has a focus on drama and music.They are not sure about the % girls and are not sure its relevant – they haven’t got time to worry about it – but it is nowhere near 50% yet. (This is an IT start up).
Both schools are running an open day to try to encourage parents of girls to take up places.
You go along with your daughter because she’s really good at science and maths, and she’s really good at drama, music and English, she’s brave, a pioneer and loves a challenge. She gets on really well with boys. She’s also very sporty.
Your daughter currently goes to a multi – disciplinary diverse co-ed school with 50/50 boys and girls and has no problem getting heard in class. She is regarded as a star pupil. She feels supported by a range of male and female teachers.
What questions do you prepare to ask these two schools to decide if your daughter is going to move schools?
You read the prospectus for the traditional school and find it very off-putting. For example, in the section under sports they stress the success of their rugby and cricket teams but no mention of tennis, swimming or netball.
The more modern school’s prospectus has pictures of some very cool kids. Some of the 6th form boys have long beards. They stress the commitment of the pupils to the drama clubs – to be involved you need to be willing to do very late nights and weekend rehearsals. If not you can’t join. They also do musical theatre and have lots of bands – but stress they don’t do glee or pop.
The girls at both schools don’t seem to be reaching their potential and are progressing slower than the boys. Again the statistics are not clear.
- How long has the this disparity in ratios been a problem (15/ 30 years) and why are they making such slow progress recruiting girls? What is their target date to get to 50/50? Do they have an action plan?
- Is the ethos of the school as described in the prospectus accurate?
- What is the exact %ge of girls / boys for each school and each subject and why aren’t they reporting it transparently? Or don’t they know?
- Have they asked the girls that are currently at the school what it is like, and if they have any idea why girls might not want to come to the school and are leaving (this may need to be an anonymous survey)? If not, why not?
- When girls leave before ‘A levels’ do they systematically ask them why?
- Are there any issues with girls being bullied or harassed? Are they encouraged to report it? Is there a designated teacher to deal with it? Is that teacher male or female?
- What do the boys think about being in a predominantly male school – would they prefer it if it was more balanced or do they think its not a problem? They’ve just got used to it.
- Do they recognise, support, value and allow time for young people’s out of school interests (e.g. your daughter swims for the county).
If the schools could not answer these questions and in fact had not even thought of them – you would very much question if they were serious about dealing with the problem. They are not showing any proactivity.
Particularly if they said that the only problem is that girls just don’t seem to want to apply to their school. Young people these days are very well networked – they talk – they will have the insider knowledge of your school.
If they said a partner school had carried out a survey which showed that 60% of girls had been sexually harassed ( cf Silicon valley) you would probably ask why they hadn’t done something similar – because that sounded really serious.
On balance would you encourage your daughter to go to either school – are you sure she would thrive? Can you see anything changing any time soon in these schools?
She is a pioneer but not a martyr. She’s very talented and has lots of choices.
I know the potential IT recruits to your company are Women not girls – but I think you get the idea. Even Iron Maidens would struggle. As my son says: why would I?
If you are a Technology leader I challenge you- have you ever Googled ‘Diversity in Technology’? Do you have any insight? Have you spoken to minorities that work in Tech? Do you have any idea of the Diversity Stats in your teams and how they are changing over time? If you haven’t yet – then I would suggest you are not serious and are happy with the status quo. Are you part of the problem or part of the solution?