Gender and jobs

May 1, 2014

Mary Curnock Cook is right to point out the issue of gender imbalance in certain subject areas (“Women in STEM ‘sole focus’ of gender imbalance debate”, News, 24 April) where women make up the majority of students and it is true that more needs to be done to encourage men into professions such as teaching. However, despite the high proportion of women at undergraduate level, there is still a continuing disproportionality at professorial level in these subjects. In nursing, for example, women make up about 89 per cent of the student body, but 63 per cent of professors.

The Equality Challenge Unit is currently trialling its new gender equality charter mark, which aims to help higher education institutions address gender imbalances in employment in the arts, humanities and social sciences. This includes subject areas where men are under-represented.

As Curnock Cook suggests, creating a more balanced faculty will be a step towards making it more acceptable for young people to undertake any course of learning, or career, whatever gender stereotypes may be attached.

David Ruebain
Chief executive, Equality Challenge Unit


I was disappointed to read the article discussing the gender imbalance of some courses. Mary Curnock Cook’s comments about needing to increase the number of men in “female-dominated areas” do not reflect the complex picture of choosing a profession, and studying to join it.

My research, as well as that of others in the field, has seen that the issue is complicated, with men struggling to join these professions, but rising swiftly up the ranks, once qualified, into positions of management. This discussion has its origins in the work of Christine Williams, who wrote about “women’s work”, and the issues for men when they decide to work in these spaces. What might be more useful is a more nuanced discussion, one that reflects the complex interplay of social, personal and educational issues that coincide when deciding (and embarking) on a course of study that has a strong gender connotation.

Jason Schaub
Bucks New University


Ever stop to wonder why “gender imbalance” has become the descriptor for what is, in effect, systematic, institutional sexism that makes itself manifest in the atrophying of women’s long-term careers vis-à-vis men’s?

Simple: gender imbalance directs the argument to a non-controversial (non-feminist) place in which “the problem” is just a matter of representative numbers. More men in nursing. More women in STEM. No need to change things too much or to question too deeply what institutional practices and assumptions and workplace cultures do to sustain “gender imbalance”. Sigh.

What I struggle with is why this is not obvious to everyone else.

Jo Phoenix

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