Pearson vows to 'flip harmful gender stereotypes'

One of UK’s biggest school textbook makers vows to ‘flip harmful gender stereotypes’ in its products so astronauts will be female, boys will bake cakes and salary charts will have women at the top

  • Pearson will ‘flip’ gender stereotypes in resources to help tackle gender bias
  • Books to show girls as firefighters, astronauts, mechanics, scientists and CEO’s  
  • Research shows experiences of early gender bias has long-term negative effects

School books and exam papers could soon show girls dressing up as firefighters and boys watering plants after one of the country’s largest education companies launched plans to tackle gender bias.

Pearson, which owns the exam board Edexcel and produces resources for schools, today announced guidelines to ‘flip’ gender stereotypes and ‘avoid unconscious bias.’

The move, which was developed in close collaboration with The Fawcett Society, will show girls as firefighters, astronauts and mechanics and boys watering plants, baking cakes, playing in a pretend kitchen and performing in a dance competition.

The company said it will ‘take care to avoid content which conforms to role stereotypes’ and will ‘avoid the harmful suggestion that roles are associated with or appropriate to one gender only’. 

It comes after research showed that experiences of early gender bias can have long-term negative effects.   

 Pearson, which owns the exam board Edexcel and produces resources for schools, had announced plans to ‘flip’ gender stereotypes. (Stock image)

A poll by The Fawcett Society also showed that 51 per cent of respondents noted that gender stereotyping had constrained their career choices and 45 per cent said they felt expected to behave in a certain way as children. 

The guidelines say employees should ‘avoid unconscious bias’ in behaviours ascribed to a gender when creating learning materials for children – for example, ‘a woman being sensitive’, or ‘a man being assertive’.

It adds that staff should ‘promote women and girls in traditionally masculine roles and vice versa’.

‘Show women as the business owner, painting the house, wearing the lab coat and fixing the car and men taking the children to school, baking the birthday cake for colleagues, taking the meeting minutes and teaching the primary class,’ the guidance from Pearson adds.

Staff are advised to make sure they have female robots, dinosaurs, and animals, but to avoid ascribing stereotypically feminine or masculine traits or appearances – such as adding ‘long eyelashes to an animal to indicate they are female or a bow tie to indicate they are male’.

The gender equality guidelines add that employees should ‘look for and remove unconscious bias in fictitious graphs/tallies/data’ – such as a tally of full-time salaries where the majority of men are paid more than women.

Gender-neutral terms should also be used rather than the generic term ‘man’, such as ‘humankind’ rather than mankind, and the singular ‘they’ as a pronoun should be used ‘where possible’, the guidance adds.  

The guidelines will also remove the unconscious bias in fictitious graphs and in tallies which show the majority of men being paid higher than women when it comes to full-time salaries. 

The company, which has acknowledged the long-term negative impact that gender stereotyping has on children, will use the guidelines to develop all of its future textbooks, digital resources and qualifications.

School books and exam papers will see proportionately more women than men as scientists, CEOs and doctors and proportionately more men than women working in nursing or caring for children in the home. (Stock image)

Pearson’s Bug Club Shared titles for primary schools now contains a book about Junko Tabei – the first woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

Meanwhile, another book, My Shadow And Me, depicts a single father in a caring role and toys are gender-neutral, Pearson said.

The guidelines will be rolled out to the company’s 22,500 employees in 70 countries over the next 12 months.

Sharon Hague, Pearson’s senior vice president of UK Schools, said: ‘Gender stereotypes strike early and hit hard. The messages we give children, at home, at school and as a society, have a tremendous bearing on the choices we make.

‘As the leading learning provider, Pearson has the power to support teachers to dispel gender bias, flip stereotypes and play an important part in opening up the choices available to young people.’

Sam Smethers, chief executive of The Fawcett Society, said: ‘We are really encouraged that staff at Pearson have recognised the importance of challenging gender stereotypes and want to play their part in making a change.

‘These guidelines are a practical way to make a real difference.’

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