Competition aimed at getting girls into science won by a boy

By Tanya Harrington

Corresponding with a notice on their website which states, “In the UK, only 1 in every 7 people who work in science, technology, engineering and maths is female,” EDF energy opened a competition marketed as encouraging girls between the ages of 11-16 to enter STEM fields later on in life. The catch? EDF’s competition was not as exclusively female as their marketing would lead us to believe.

Instead, whilst continuing with their narrative from the previous year about hoping to create environments which let girls specifically learn about STEM fields, EDF made the competition open to both girls and boys. A boy then went on to win the competition.

It is important not to treat this winning in itself as an act of sexism – a boy did not win the competition because of his gender, as the ideas of the competition finalists (three female and two male) were shown anonymously to judges and were judged purely by their merit. Rather, it is the laziness of marketing and advertising staff, who failed to follow through with their promise of an area for young female-only discourse in STEM fields, which should be scrutinised.

A career area so vastly underpopulated by women can appear as intimidating to young girls looking to join the field – with less encouragement from others to do so, and with fewer same-sex role models to look up to. For EDF energy to promise a female-only space for growth and development to young girls, only to later go on and take it away, is cruel. As well as this, this result also reflects an increasingly popular trend of companies marketing themselves as endorsing female empowerment without actually following through, leading to an overall harmful view of feminism as something “trendy” and watered down.

Computer scientist Dr Sue Black OBE commented, “It is taking me a bit of time to work out how this result will change girls’ perceptions of STEM.”

Of course, girls cannot expect to win competitions such as this due to their gender alone. Ciara Judge, winner of the Google Global Science Fair 2014, noted that feeling like “the token girl,” is often much worse than losing fair and square. However, the issue here is not that a boy won the competition, but rather that this false encouragement of girls as a marketing technique is reflective of a market in which women are viewed as less valuable, and more easily pushed aside, than men. Honest advertising, and more importantly, honest feminism, from companies can help to prevent this from happening in future.

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