Stomping on stereotypes

In the news last week was the report of eight year old Sophia Trowe a young girl from Middlesex who posted a letter to Clarkes shoes on her mum’s twitter account after being told the Stomposaurus school shoes she wanted were not ‘suitable’ for girls. The letter prompted a positive response from Clarkes, but also sparked support from TrowelBlazers, an online community for female archaeologists, geologists, and paleontologists, posting pictures of their footwear to Twitter under the tag #InMyShoes.

They said, “C’mon #WomenInScience, I think @jane_trow needs some inspirational #InMyShoes pics for #SophiaTrow. Show the shoes you #science in!”

Coming from a traditional conservative background, I understand, but are still surprised that female stereotypes remain so real. In many ways, I probably shocked, or perhaps more surprised my mother when I opted for what was considered a ‘man’s profession’. As I was detail oriented, organised and good at maths, my mother encouraged me to do accountancy. An ideal profession for a young woman.

But I enrolled, as the first woman in my family to go to university, in Mechanical Engineering majoring in Biomedical.

In 2000, I was one of only ten women among about 300 men within the Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering degrees at my university. This was a world built on stereotypes. Success came easily to these boys and they expected it. They partied with each other, they had similar interests – many came from single sex schools, so in many ways I was from a completely different planet. And perhaps, I too was a stereotype to them. A sports mad, opinionated maths nerd who was pushing my way to the top in what had, up till then been a man’s world.

I thrived in the world of engineering and attribute much of my success in my current role to the emotional intelligence I gained at university. I learnt a lot from how men operated…they made no excuses about their ability and I realised I should do the same. They were confident and I could be too. With this confidence I completed my PhD, and made every effort to participate in careers fairs and open days at university with a focus on attracting more women to the engineering profession.

As I tutored Materials Engineering I and Computer Aided Design I did see a gradual increase in the proportion of women within the engineering degrees, primarily due to the efforts of other female engineers promoting their discipline and the foresight of the university in recognising the benefits of diverse thinking that comes from gender balance in the profession.

Gender stereotypes hurt both men and women, but continue to perpetuate at home, in business, in the media, and, so it seems, with shoes.

But I’m right up there with Sophia and with #womeninscience. We are not defined by either our gender, our career choice, or our choice of shoes.


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