The idea of gender-based preferences for different careers seems like something that’s so intertwined in years of societal development that it’d be really hard to work out how much is due to nature vs nurture.
But if we look at different countries, we can maybe get an idea that it might be more related to society than we imagine. For example, the percentage of female doctors.
In Estonia or Finland or Poland, well over 50% of doctors are female.
In the UK it’s just under 50%.
In the US it’s more like 35%.
In Japan and Korea it’s more like 20%.
(figures for about 2015)
Now, comparing different countries is always tricky, as there can be different definitions, or there may be some practical reason why Estonia ends up with 70% female doctors.
But if we looked at the US and that only 35% of doctors are female, we might assume that there’s some gender based reason for that. But if we looked at other countries we might assume something totally different.
There’s also the fact that these figures can change dramatically over time. I only have data for the US, but in 1990 17% of doctors were female. In 2015 36% were. I’d imagine it’s higher now.
I suspect the UK has had an even more dramatic change, as I imagine the number of female doctors in the 70s or 80s was pretty low.
(Side anecdote: I remember my dad posing a ‘riddle’ in the 80s.
"A doctor is in the hospital elevator when the nurses wheel in an injured boy on a gurney. They say ‘there was a terrible car accident and he was badly injured. Unfortunately his father was killed. You need to operate immediately!’ and the doctor says ‘I can’t operate on him, he’s my son!’ How can this be?"
This stumped me and my sister for ages, and we had to give up. Then my dad revealed the answer “The doctor is his mother!” Shock!
I then naturally posed this ‘riddle’ to all my mates at school, and I don’t think anyone got it.
I tried the same riddle on my daughter a few years back, and she said immediately 'The doctor is his mum" and looked at me like “where was the riddle part?”)
So, what changed? Quite probably, I’d never met a female doctor in the 80s, and maybe never seen one on TV. My daughter had probably met lots by that point, and seen them on TV.
Now, in the 80s, if my sister was considering what she’d want to do in life, would she choose doctor? Probably not. Would my daughter now? Much more likely.
This is one of many reasons why I’ve come to realize quite how important representation is. If you compare media from the 70s/80s/90s to today, you see how much it has changed - despite still having a long way to go. But hopefully more than just white male kids growing up with modern media will see their own potential.
Bringing things back to the original topic for a minute, it’s another reason why hiring a BAME writer might have additional long-term benefits over just that person themselves. Maybe BAME readers will see that person and identify with them, and it might inspire them to get into writing, or to apply for the next job vacancy at RPS or a similar place. Maybe we’ll discover the next great writer, who otherwise might never have applied.
The way RPS went from no female writers, to one (who suffered a lot of shit from parts of the readership) to having 50% (who hopefully are mostly accepted without a blink) in the space of a few years shows how powerful this can be.
(Anecdote number 2:
My mum’s first job out of university was computer programming. Fortran I think. At that time most of the programmers were female. She left when I was born. (Not much in the way of maternity rights back then). 10 years later when she wanted to return to the workforce, programming had changed to an almost exclusively male profession… so she trained as a teacher. )
Side note: Code.org (coding lessons for kids) says that over 50% of their members are female.