Rewarding equality (2 of 2)

September 1, 2011

I agree with Dame Athene Donald that gender diversity matters, but I wonder if her proposal would have the desired effects ("Where is Physics Barbie?", 25 August).

First, we do not know the importance of role models in influencing the choice of academic subject relative to the many other factors. We do know that men and women have different interests and that these influence career choices, irrespective of role models.

Second, sex differences in early play patterns are among the largest sex differences found and are influenced in part by prenatal exposure to sex hormones. Of course, culture plays a role, but we cannot brush aside the importance of biological factors.

Irrespective of whatever policy we choose to influence gender ratios, there might always be a majority of male physics and computer science students and a majority of female veterinary and psychology students. Is this necessarily a bad thing for academia, society and young adults? If this situation truly reflects people's interests, would it not be patronising to aim to change it?

Even if change is the goal, it will not be achieved unless we fully understand all the influences on career choices, social and biological.

Gijsbert Stoet, Lecturer in psychology, University of Leeds

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