“That’s women’s work”: challenging gender stereotypes through tertiary educationSeptember 2017
The way tertiary education organisations package, promote and deliver their courses can help challenge long-held societal perceptions about certain vocations. By JUDE BARBACK.
We like to think we’ve evolved beyond jobs that are traditionally regarded as ‘women’s work’ and ‘men’s work’ but the stats tell a different story. Tertiary education organisations have an important role to play in shrugging off the gender stereotype hangover. The way organisations package, promote and deliver their courses has the potential to change perceptions of vocations and rebalance the gender mix.
Take nursing for example. While up to 50 per cent of those enrolling to become doctors are now reportedly women, only 10 per cent or less of nursing students are male. The health sector is crying out for more male nurses, but has struggled to attract men into what has traditionally been a female domain.
However, research into a new graduate nursing programme that attracted more male students revealed that tertiary institutions have the potential to play a key role in challenging gender stereotypes, by thinking about the pathways into certain careers, and the courses on offer.
The new dual fast-track graduate programme was the subject of a research project that looked at the qualification’s impact on attracting men into the nursing profession. The graduate programme combines the University of Canterbury’s Master of Health Science and Ara’s Bachelor of Nursing, and is available to graduates of a health-related degree.
Ara nursing lecturer and researcher Dr Isabel Jamieson along with Ara nursing lecturer colleagues John Withington and Dianne Hudson, and UC colleagues Thomas Harding and Alison Dixon, based a suite of research projects on the new programme. Their research replicated a study from Monash University in Australia which runs a similar graduate programme. The findings were recently published in the Nurse Education in Practice journal (‘Attracting men to nursing: is graduate entry an answer?) and presented at the Ara Research Week in mid-August.
The researchers found that, contrary to assumptions, the men in their study sample were as driven as female nurses to care for others.
While men are very much a minority group in nursing, they are typically viewed as very likely to be promoted to managerial positions.
“However the men we interviewed, on the whole they didn’t want to be managers. They clearly want to be providing direct patient care,” said Jamieson.
Diversity in the workforce is important. Nurses should represent the population they care for, and men bring different qualities to the job, Jamieson says.
“They can be very pragmatic, which is very useful. If men are dealing with a male patient, the male psyche is useful, the language and understanding a man’s worldview.”
Jamieson suspects that prior academic achievement gives the men who enrol in the programme more freedom to choose their own path.
“I guess that because these men already have degrees, they have proven themselves in the academic world and now they feel they can go and do what they want to do career-wise”.
“Some of these men have already undertaken what could be identified as quite masculine fields of work, such as on building sites and in farm work. One of these participants said that both his parents are nurses, but he didn’t consider it till much later in his work life. While it is socially acceptable for girls to say they want to be a nurse, it is probably not so acceptable for boys.”
And yet nursing is “a tough job”, Jamieson says.
“It is physically, mentally and academically demanding. Nurses need to be able to combine the art and science of nursing to do the job. They are balancing lots of information all the time.”
“I think the some of the general public underestimate what it takes to become a registered nurse. RNs need the personal attributes of kindness and caring, as well as clinical knowledge of health issues, disease processes, pathophysiology, coupled with a social/political understanding of health politics to say nothing of the plethora of questions arising from what a patient has just read on the internet or information provided to them from the latest app downloaded to their smart phones.”
Men in early childhood education
Nursing isn’t the only profession afflicted by gender stereotyping. Sarah Farquhar’s 2006 research paper on men in early childhood education (ECE) draws attention to “the veil of sexism inherent in the profession”. She outlines the experience of ECE teacher Lance Cablk beginning his Graduate Diploma in Teaching (Early Childhood Education) at the University of Auckland.
“All my teachers and fellow students are women. ‘Good God! It’s a bloke’, one of the university faculty staff half-joked to our group on seeing me. Refreshing honesty – I later thought. But having it acknowledged so publicly set off more waves of self-doubt, initially felt as numbness.”
Why are there so few male ECE teachers? The small percentage of male ECE teachers is generally thought to be a reflection of the fact that it was still regarded as ‘women’s work’. And there sadly was still stigma associated with the controversial Civic Crèche incident in 1992, when a male ECE teacher was charged with sexually abusing children in his care.
Last year, the Ministry of Education confirmed that although it was aware of the gender disparity in the sector, it couldn’t discriminate through affirmative action or by providing scholarships on the basis of gender. It prioritised the quality of teaching rather than the gender of teachers.
However, by making subtle changes to their course delivery and promotion, tertiary organisations may be able to affect change in this area.
In his article ‘Challenges we face to increase the numbers of men in early childhood education’, early childhood teacher and researcher Craig d’Arcy gives some pointers on what ECE training organisations can do to make their courses more appealing for men.
First up, he says they need to develop an explicit approach through advertising materials and course information that specifically targets men as potential students.
He says educators need to ensure that when a male is in a course, the female students aren’t given the impression that the male students receive preferential treatment.
“To support a male student, it is important to consider adapting materials to take into account learning styles of male students and also the male perspective on children and families.”
D’Arcy says educators also need to seek mentoring opportunities to decrease the isolation of male students by placing them with experienced male workers on practicum placements.
Women in STEM
We seem to have made more progress with attracting women to professions that have been traditionally perceived as ‘men’s work’, such as those based in the sciences, technology, engineering or maths (STEM) disciplines.
This could be down to the overt push from the Government. The Ministry for Women is pretty clear that we need to get more women involved in engineering, ICT, software development and computer science in order to meet skill shortages in these areas.
It notes that at primary school level, there is no difference in science achievement between male and female students and by age 15 girls and boys have comparable literacy skills in science and maths. Girls currently make up around 50 per cent of students taking science subjects at the senior secondary level, however they are more likely to choose biology subjects while the boys opt for physics and calculus.
Currently, at the tertiary level, women make up 64 per cent of Bachelor of Science enrolments. However they are over-represented in the health sciences and under-represented in areas such as engineering and technology. Women make up less than a quarter of those studying for a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and just over a third of those studying for a Bachelor of Science in Information Technology.
These study trends mean that women make up only 13 per cent of engineers and seven per cent of chartered professional engineers.
While there are several programmes and organisations in place to address gender imbalance in science and innovation, there is clearly a need to attract more females to these career choices at an earlier stage.
In 2014 Ako Aotearoa completed some research as part of the Pathways to Engineering Education Project. They came up with a number of recommendations for attracting women and Māori and Pasifika learners into engineering, including profiling successful engineers from these groups to help promote engineering as a career choice.
They also recommended the development of a common and more flexible bridging curriculum that may be delivered at both secondary and tertiary levels.
In addition, they recommended that the Tertiary Education Commission consider offering free pathway courses to engineering study and, possibly, the development of increased scholarship or cadetship opportunities for engineering study in diploma and degree programmes that incentivise success in these qualifications.
It’s also about challenging perceptions in general. Wintec held an ‘engineering in action’ day last year in an effort to do just that. According to Wintec chief executive Mark Flowers, some students’ perceptions of engineering made them rule it out early.
“It’s possible that an image comes into your mind of people working with machinery, with spanners... building bridges and making roads,”
he told Stuff.
But engineers were also the people who made innovative ideas work, for example in robotics or electronics.
Flowers also felt there was a bias towards university education, which meant students might overlook institutes of technology and polytechnics (ITPs).
It’s a similar story for tech industries, although this is slowly changing thanks to the introduction of CodeClub and a stronger approach to digital technologies at the primary school level.
CodeClub is a volunteer-based primary and intermediate after-school programme that aims to teach young people to program via computer game, animation, and website-oriented challenges.
“I’ve got an 11-year-old daughter and I wanted to give her the opportunity to choose IT as a career,” CodeClub creator Bryn Lewis told Idealog. “We need to get girls thinking about IT early on, and girls-only clubs seem to create an environment where they can learn. They haven’t necessarily decided to become programmers, but they’ve decided to embrace IT as a career.”
AUT has a webpage and Facebook group for ‘Women in Technology’ in which it highlights the success of their female students, staff and alumni in key roles in male dominated fields. The university also runs programmes for high school and primary school students to inspire more girls to get into these fields.
Indeed, it is a collective effort to challenge gender stereotypes, in which tertiary education organisations can play a pivotal role.
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