Minister launches IOP project to stamp out gender bias

4 June 2014

Women and equalities minister Jenny Willott said gender stereotypes had put girls off of STEM careers for too long as she launched an IOP project aimed at eradicating their influence.

Closing Doors

Called Opening Doors, the pilot project will be funded by the Government Equalities Office. It will enable the IOP to research ways to remove gender-related obstacles that still stand between students, their subject choices and their career paths.

Speaking on 4 June at the launch in Highams Park School, east London, she said: “No student should feel restricted by their gender. Gender stereotypes for too long have stopped girls and women from pursuing careers in fields such as engineering, scientific research and manufacturing.

“We want to stamp that out and make sure that no student is ever put off pursuing a passion because of society’s prejudices about certain careers. This is a very exciting project that will shed a light on how teachers and schools can improve the rate of girls taking up science and maths.”

Opening Doors continues work that started with the IOP’s publication of data last December on national subject choice trends, called Closing Doors. This suggested that the vast majority of schools do little to counter gender prejudices.

It also builds on the IOP’s Project Juno, which involved working with university physics departments to identify and reward best practice in addressing the under-representation of women in physics departments.

Frances Saunders, president of the Institute, said: “Physics has a pipeline problem. Despite the fact that A-level physics is now the second most popular subject for boys, it languishes in 18th place for girls.

“If the UK is going to meet the science and engineering challenges of the 21st century, we need to engage a larger number of girls and inspire them to get involved.

“We also need to continue to show that studying science and engineering opens doors to the widest range of the most rewarding careers.

“Our research suggests that this is something that cannot be done by the science department alone; whole school environments need to reflect on the gender roles they propagate via often subtle, unintentional but deeply-ingrained cultural influences.

“That’s why we’re very grateful to the Government Equalities Office for giving us this opportunity to start research that will help us to identify where improvements can be made.”