Girls (Educational Development) — [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]
Esther McVey (Wirral West, Conservative)
I will indeed. I will talk about work experience and employing other styles of developing confidence later on. My hon. Friend has certainly touched on an important subject.
The aspects that I have talked about make up confidence. They are important throughout life, and girls lack them. Quantitative studies over many years have shown that levels of self-confidence in girls and young women are much lower than those in boys—Hisrich and Bowen in 1986, Hollenstead and Wilt in 2000 and Kickul, Wilson, Marlino and Barbosa in 2008. Such issues need to be addressed, because they have lifelong implications.
Today’s debate centres on the key ingredients that assist in life fulfilment and in achieving personal potential, which need to be nurtured especially in girls far more than boys. Broadbridge noted that a lack of confidence resulted in girls being far more critical of themselves and their abilities. That can become self-doubt later in life, preventing them from applying for promotion and bringing attention to their own achievements, as Singh, Vinnicombe, James said in 2006.
That stands the test from a recruitment point of view. Having conducted informal quantitative studies, recruiters will say that they can probably check a woman’s CV in 20 minutes, because a woman usually underestimates her ability, whereas they might need up to two hours to check a bloke’s CV, because he is convinced that he can do something, even if he has not necessarily done it yet.
In Carol Gilligan’s book, “In A Different Voice”, she explained how male and female traits develop differently from birth through parental guidance. Boys strive to be independent by, for example, playing competitive games, whereas girls stay close to their mother and their games are dominated by “sharing” and “playing together”. That means that men can put “winning” ahead of relationships and that women value co-operation and do not like the quest for victory, if it threatens the harmony of a group. The academic Albert Bandura noted that
“confidence in our ability to perform”
is developed in four key ways—social persuasions, mastery of experience, modelling and judgment of our own psychological state. Social persuasions and stereotyping, as identified by Bandura, are a huge concern when considering girls in school.
Girlguiding UK’s 2009 girls’ attitudes survey showed that girls aspire, stereotypically, to female careers. Hairdressing was the No.1 choice for under-16s; teaching was the No.1 choice for 16 to 21-year-olds; and only 1% of those surveyed said that they wanted to work in
science or engineering. In the same survey in 2011, when the girls were asked why so many of them aspired to be hairdressers and so few to be engineers, more than half those surveyed—57%—said that hairdressing is what girls are interested in, while they veer away from engineering because of a lack of interest, as expressed by 51%, and a significant lack of female role models, as expressed by 60%. It was also perceived that girls “don’t do that sort of job”, as expressed by 47%, and that they did not know enough about it anyway, as expressed by 43%.
As demonstrated by those figures, there is a confidence issue when we explore areas of work that are outside the stereotypical areas of female work, which often limits the job prospects, wages and promotion of women. In turn, that often leaves women in much more vulnerable jobs later in life, such as “the five Cs”—cleaning, catering, caring, cashiering and clerical work. The widening of girls’ horizons from a young age is vital, especially as there is a constant battle with the daily barrage of media sexualisation and stereotyping of girls. Studies over the past 30 years—from McArthur and Resko, to Manstead and McCulloch, to Hyde—have constantly found that, overall, men and women in the media and advertisements differed in terms of credibility, with men being portrayed as authorities and women as users, and women in terms of relationships and men as independent. Given the daily amount of television alone that we consume—on average, four hours a day—and how highly we regard TV as our major source of entertainment and our most important news medium, we can realise how important that constant barrage of TV images is when it comes to fixing our views and adding to existing stereotypes.
Many girls tend to be seen, and see themselves, as the nurturers, which is reflected in their choice of occupation. The recent Ofsted report, “Girls’ Aspirations”, showed that the sort of fixed views exhibited by girls in the Girlguiding UK report are being maintained, because girls are sticking to strict, old-fashioned stereotyping. The Ofsted report also found a lack of knowledge among girls about what careers are available and about progression and promotion in careers in general, which highlights concerns about the careers system and careers advice.
What are the Government doing? They have taken some important steps. I welcome the introduction of the E-bac, or English baccalaureate, which is one of the Government’s most recent initiatives. It is a new performance measure for schools and is designed to give children a more rounded education, encouraging more students to take traditional academic subjects, including English, maths, history, geography, the sciences and a language. It was reported in August that the E-bac is steering twice as many pupils in England’s secondary schools towards core academic subjects. A Government-commissioned survey showed that 33% of pupils will take E-bac subjects in 2012 and 47% in 2013 compared with only 22% in 2010.