IWD2019: Let’s Make Room for Boys

Happy International Women’s Day 2019. I’d like to talk about boys.

Hear me out.

I’m currently running a mini experiment at work. In one of my schools, I’ve been running a boys’ club where every week over pizza, we discuss things like mental health, next steps and finance. I ran it with 9 students and it’s been really successful. I had almost perfect attendance and when I see the boys in the corridors they beg for more sessions (even requesting what they’d like to learn about next, proving that it’s not just about pizza). Through evaluation forms, they told me that it was a safe place for them to discuss things, and that they feel more confident as a result of the club.

Next, I’ll be running a girls’ club, based around crafting (amusing probably myself only, I’ve named the club Crafternoon), but afterwards I’ll be running a mixed sex group. I want to know whether boys gain more from being with other boys, or whether they get more out of being in a mixed group.

Why am I wanging on about boys on International Women’s Day?

Throughout the first few chapters of my career, I was in very male dominated areas. When I studied Japanese, I was the only girl who made it to the final year of the course, but even in the first and second years I was one of only a handful of female students. At Nintendo, there were a number of women about but it was quite a male dominated in culture. Also many of the guys there weren’t sure of how to work with women:

Once, a German translator colleague brought in some cookies he’d made for the team. Complimenting him on his baking skills, I told him he should give up the day job and bake cookies full time. He replied “yes, I would bring them to your door naked”.

Early on in my time there, I was a lead translator in a project. A British tester came up on the chat programme saying they’d found a grammar mistake made by a colleague of mine. I apologised, said that I would go and fix it. The tester replied “if it happens again, I’ll put you over my knee and spank you”.

Just two small examples, but you can see how, over time, these things build up to form a culture where I felt I didn’t have a place. (Please note: these were my experiences a long time ago there; this is not a reflection of the current working environment which I am sure is great).

When I think of my motivations and drives right now in my career, I can boil it all down to two things I’d like to fight for:

  1. Make access to opportunity equal for all young people.
  2. Change the STEM world so young women want to apply to roles, and feel like they belong once they get there.

There are SO many “let’s get girls into STEM” initiatives going on right now. Massive companies are throwing money at the problem, sending their staff out to schools, making massive posters of their few female staff to prove that they exist.

Many of these initiative activities exclude boys. Companies from Microsoft to Monster are providing activities, trips, events and so on, just for female students.

But I really think this is the wrong way to go about it.

Yes, if you want to get the most bang for your buck you want to use 100% of the budget on your target audience – the girls. But if you include some boys, you empower the girls, showing them that they too can have these skills – but you also show the boys that girls are welcome in STEM.

To take it back to my own experiences, I believe that if my colleagues had been exposed to more girls who are into gaming, into Japanese and in STEM careers, they wouldn’t freak out and say inappropriate things when they do encounter female colleagues. Both of the men in the examples above were good guys – neither of them had bad intentions or wanted to make me feel uncomfortable. They just didn’t know what to do with this exotic species Woman.

But this extends out of STEM.

Boys need our help right now. No, really.

Suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 and 49. Working class white boys are not progressing to university.

On the one hand, white men have had the upper hand for so long, that it can be hard to care when they are struggling now. But we can only make true progress when everyone feels included, and cared about. Strong people bring people up with them. They don’t push others down to get ahead.

I want to help boys who are struggling, who feel like they just won’t try so they can avoid failure, and make them feel included and that people care about them. And hopefully they’ll grow into strong young men who are making good life choices, and supporting the women in their lives as well.

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