Children below ten, despite having absolutely nothing useful on their resumes, are extremely confident in their ability to secure just about any job.
Without even stepping inside a classroom they will tell you that they want to become:
- an astronaut,
- a pilot,
- a princess,
- a doctor,
- a billionare.
The list goes on, and that is exactly the point.
Kids have an unnerving sense of confidence because they have no limits. We are told from the time we first blink that, “You can do absolutely anything you set your mind to (except leave the table before you have finished dinner).” It’s not until we get older and start to doubt ourselves that the little pieces of our self-assured conviction begin to chip away.
As we get older, we start to assume the opposite of what we once knew so definitely: that there’s no way we’ll ever grow up to be X.
The shift happens for two reasons, our environment and our experiences.
No different to your children, you too have been impacted by your environment. Though as a parent it is your responsibility to consciously put aside gender stereotypes and your conditioned attitudes to industries and encourage your daughter to follow the new tribe of career women.
The Footnotes conducted a study of year 12 females and asked, “who is your biggest influencer when it comes to careers and study choices”. Parents indexed higher than any other influencer – school’s career advisors, university information days, teachers – none of them even got close to the influence of parents.
So when I recently wrote an article about engineering aimed at school leavers, I thought to myself, “who I really need to be informing is their parents”. People often equate engineers with mechanics or constructions workers. To set the record straight, I told them, the work of engineers is actually everywhere you look:
- They are behind your smart phone and all its apps
- They created the shampoo you used this morning
- They designed your hybrid car, and they fuel your gas-guzzler too
- They make sure your home has a reliable electricity supply
- They provide clean drinking water to communities everywhere
- They launch the satellites that provide mobile phone, GPS and TV signals
- They created your grandpa’s pacemaker, your grandma’s hearing aid
- They are designing the solutions that will help us deal with climate change
- They are creative
- They are problem solvers
- They help people
- They earn an excellent salary
These people invent just about every aspect of the world we live in, but the scary thing is that engineering isn’t on the radar for so many young girls.
I did a bit of research and I asked a few of my friends what they thought engineers actually did. Results are in, and turns that beyond working with bridges and engines, no one really knew. (What’s more, I’d like to think my friends are pretty cluey individuals).
I told them about an engineer who gives the gift of hearing to deaf children, when they get Cochlear implants.
I told them about a software engineer who is working for the fashion-tech company, Shoes of Prey, who wrote the code that allows you to design your dream shoes online and have them custom made.
I told them about an engineer working in India who provides sustainable, affordable lighting for homes without electricity, so that families can cook and study past sundown.
After quite a few sighs, and comments like “what am I doing with my life?”
The consensus was this, “Why didn’t I study engineering?”
The answer: Because we didn’t know what it was.
As a parent, try to open up conversations with your daughter about careers that go beyond your own experience. But how, you ask, do you recognise the skillset of an engineer in your daughter?
- Does your daughter like to think about things carefully before deciding what to do?
- Does she have a natural love of maths and science?
- Is she creative and a problem-solver?
- Does she have a talent for thinking things through?
- Does she have the ability to come up with new ideas?
- Is she persistent with something until she has become an expert at it?
- Does she set a high standard for herself?
- Does she want to make a difference or help people?
If you answered yes pretty frequently, open the conversation with your daughter about a career in engineering and you are giving her the opportunity to change the world.
Some good news: the wonderful engineering team at UNSW told me that this year female enrolments were up 10% on last year. It’s not just for the boys anymore!