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Sharing learning from our attracting diversity project

Published: 03/05/2017

Robert Gordon University works with school pupils to BEAT gender stereotypes.

Last week we launched a new blog post series as part of our Scotland team’s attracting diversity project.

This week we shine a spotlight on one of our attracting diversity project teams, Robert Gordon University (RGU). Project lead Rhona McComiskie discusses RGU’s outreach work with local schools, which seeks to influence pupil’s subject choices and increase female applicants for computing science and engineering, and male applicants for nursing.

BEAT-ing gender stereotypes in schools

As part of a Scottish Funding Council funded impact for access project, RGU investigated reasons behind gender imbalance to develop a better understanding of the issues and barriers affecting access to course areas traditionally dominated by men or women and to consider the university’s approach to tackling this persistent challenge.

With evidence indicating that the gender gap is present prior to the point of university application, the project focused on the pipeline of potential students, exploring factors that influence career choice in relation to gender and considering where intervention from the university could have a positive impact on decision making.

Our findings indicated that unconscious bias; an absence of role models; traditional views held by parents; gender ‘self-policing’ amongst peers; and a perceived  lack of information and guidance, all served to reinforce traditional gender stereotypes and impact negatively on subject choice.

So, what role can the university play in engaging with younger pupils to challenge stereotypes and help them think differently about subject choice and subsequent course and career choice? We believe we can start to BEAT gender stereotyping and imbalances through encouraging and equipping pupils to:

  • Be Aware
  • Encourage one another: don’t be dictated to by gender stereotyping
  • Ask…who says I can’t!?
  • Think…why not!

We recognise that working in partnership is essential if we are to change perceptions and behaviours. In schools we are working with teachers to develop a strategy to tackle gender imbalance that will reach from S1-S6. Piloting new resources in the classroom, working to support teachers in their role as influencers and providing hands-on experiences for pupils to engage in subject tasters and meet positive role models on campus, all form part of the strategy. We are also collaborating with our regional partners as part of a wider effort to tackle imbalance and promote pathways.

To learn more about our work please contact Rhona McComiskie, Access Pathways Lead r.mccomiskie@rgu.ac.uk.

Schools outreach work

Outreach work in schools is an increasingly popular activity undertaken by further and higher education institutions and industry representatives. Many of these programmes target school pupils at different stages of their learner journey, including primary school, pre-subject choice and application stage. We look forward to hearing more about the impact of RGU’s schools outreach work as part of their attracting diversity project in the future.

The views and opinions in parts of this blog post reflect those of the authors and not Equality Challenge Unit.