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Trek to the top

Is the trek to the top equally tough for men and women?

At a time when female politicians are rising more reliably than the dough in “Bake-Off” and a female King Lear is up for an Olivier Award, the glass ceiling gender barrier looks increasingly fragile. It may not have shattered but there are large cracks.

Who and what helps you to see where you are aiming for and are you put off by perceived gender bias in certain professions? Unless you are the rare beast that pictures yourself in adulthood when aged 3 (necessary if you want to be a ballet dancer but mainly not otherwise), your first thoughts on your long-term future will probably have been in Senior School. Schools are more aware of career guidance now, so hopefully, they have helped you make the right A- level choices, not discouraged you from taking subjects that are seen as the preserve of one gender.

February 11th, 2017, was UNESCO’s first International Day of Women and Girls in Science and a leading Cambridge female academic, is looking forward to the day when we are no longer surprised that it is the girl, not the boy, next door who has become a scientist.

In a world where women were once rarer than red squirrels, Alice Bentinck is the co-founder and COO of Entrepreneur First, a London-based start-up accelerator for tech graduates and also the co-founder of Code First: Girls, which provides free web programming courses for women in universities.  She says “I love working in the tech sector, yes it is reasonably male dominated, but we're beginning to see this change. If you're interested in the sciences, you should have a think about doing Computer Science at university, it's the one degree that will guarantee you employment!

A higher proportion of male students study business or finance at university but even top accountancy firms have relaxed their entry rules and have found that the recruits they hired who previously would have failed to meet the old academic requirements have done so well that they have been described as “game changers”. In fields such as management consultancy, clients have volunteered that they prefer to see women included in consulting teams as they tend to think laterally and in the longer term. Also in the business world, a number of recent studies show a link between gender balance and increased profitability and according to McKinsey, companies with female directors now outperform those with no female representation on the board.

Gender bias is not just about the problems facing young women - men should not be deterred from entering careers traditionally dominated by female graduates. Despite nearly a third of women having a degree in health related studies or education the number of male nurses is currently increasing, in fact at the summit of the profession they are proportionately very successful. Men can also point out that the patron saint of nursing is a man, St. Camillus de Lellis!

The default picture of judges is men in wigs but Dame Elizabeth Gloster, a Court of Appeal judge has been quoted in an interview as saying “unlike some commentators, I think that amazing strides have been made towards gender parity in the last 20 years. There is absolutely no gender discrimination whatsoever in the judiciary and, from the early 1980s, I experienced none at the Bar. More women join the legal profession than men”. 

So, have confidence in your own decision, try for whatever career you feel is right and whether male or female, don’t narrow your choices for gender reasons. Don’t be put off: remember, there are people out there to help and there is a concerted effort by politicians to try and find solutions, A special envoy for gender equality has just been appointed and academic platforms such as “He for She” are also tackling the problem. Your chosen profession may even be actively recruiting to redress the balance and your chances of climbing the ladder could be helped by standing out. Succeeding as a pioneer can be a much more satisfying challenge than joining the herd


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