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Nordic project: why do so few girls want to become engineers?

Nordic project: why do so few girls want to become engineers?

| Text and photo: Björn Lindahl

Many future jobs will be centred around digitalisation, the development of artificial intelligence and robots, and biotechnology. But far too few girls chose to study the subjects that are relevant to these areas. The Nordic labour ministers want to know why.

“ I am a maths and physics teacher myself. I know that many girls are interested in these subjects. Yet many young people have a far too narrow understanding of what the subjects can lead to, and what you might actually end up working with,” says Sweden’s Minister for Employment Ylva Johansson.

“Being an engineer or working with new technology means you can be part of shaping tomorrow’s climate solutions, tomorrow’s social solutions and tomorrow’s welfare solutions,” she points out.

“We have to broaden the image so that you know how many different jobs you could do if you carry on studying these subjects. This is important in order not to lose all the capacity and competence which we are actually missing among the female population.”

What is behind this distortion?

The Nordic Council of Ministers for Labour meeting in Reykjavik on 3rd April decided to grant money to a project which will study the education institutions and the labour market. 

Where does the distortion stem from? Should teaching be changed so that it suits girlsbetter? The NLJ visited one course organised by Google, where women were taught how to code. Cat videos were used as an example of what they could do.

“I don’t for a second believe in that kind of stuff! It’s just ridiculous, actually. Don’t try to turn mathematics or physics pink! Girls enjoy maths and natural science and they are good at it. The problem is that they do not go down that professional path. I think this is because they, as most young people, don’t know enough about what the occupations actually entail.”

What happens in the labour market?

But even those who do chose an occupation like that can be faced with a culture where women feel unwelcome.

The research project will therefore focus on how the labour market promotes sustainability and gender equality within STEM jobs (short for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics).

Do the social partners promote inclusive working environments? What are the career paths? And can you combine the occupations with family life?

Not enough knowledge

Ylva Johansson believes the most important issue is to improve the information about working life. The education in itself does not need changing.

“No, what is important is to showcase the occupations this actually leads to. Young people do not have enough general knowledge about working life. We see that many young people, not least girls, want a job where you can make a difference, and where you can take responsibility for how society develops and tackle environmental problems,” she says.

“People want a well-paid job, of course, and good working conditions, but they also want to contribute to how society develops. And you do that by training to be an engineer for instance. You will not be left navel-gazing at some obscure research project, you will actually take part in shaping the future.

The project will be run by the Nordic Council of Ministers’ co-operative body NIKK (Nordic information for knowledge about gender). It is expected to be finished by the end of 2020. The project also includes a comparative study within the Nordic region and beyond – how do countries outside of the Nordic region approach the recruitment bias within the STEM area? 

Engineers shape society

Girls rarely chose subjects needed to become engineers. Yet this is the job which really allows you to shape society. Here a new and creative playground is being installed in Tøyen, Oslo.


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