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School students discover gender pay gap issues start young

School students discover gender pay gap issues start young

A school gender equity project has shown that if Auckland five-year-olds follow their career aspirations, the girls will earn almost $15,000 a year less than the boys when they begin work.

The seven young researchers, Year 8 students at Glendowie Primary School, say the studies and experiments they have done, and their interviews with experts, suggest gender stereotypes during childhood can lead to inequality in the future and can affect young people’s decisions and self-worth.

“We first started looking at the gender pay gap. We were passionate about equality and wanted to be treated fairly when we are older and working. We thought more about why this was and then realised that it could be to do with gender stereotypes in jobs,” student Grace Lynch says.

The group asked Year 1 students at their school and three other primary schools in their community what they wanted to do for a job when they grew up. Using online data, they then compared the average salaries of the children’s ideal future jobs to find out if girls were choosing traditionally lower-paid employment.

The result was that, using today’s salary data, the girls would earn 18 per cent less than the boys.

“This shows that children as young as five are being influenced by job stereotypes. These stereotypes are negatively affecting their lives and aspirations,” the group’s report states.

The group, which includes Grace, Helena Quirk, Louise Wanden, Sarah Butterworth, Aimee McCormick, Lily Hu and Andy Zhao, also looked at gender stereotypes in readers given to young children for homework and the prevalence of male versus female lead characters in the picture book section of their library.

The students interviewed Diversity Works New Zealand Chief Executive Rachel Hopkins, media commentator Lizzie Marvelley and Dr Michelle Dickinson, creator of the Nanogirl website and a passionate supporter of getting children, especially girls, interested in science. They also talked to a female engineer and a psychology student to get more information on the impact of gender stereotypes.

As part of the project, the group produced a brochure outlining the research findings and giving parents tips to help eliminate gender stereotyping for children at home. The students also plan to develop a resource for teachers with information on what they can do in the classroom to reduce gender stereotypes and bias.

“Everyone is responsible for gender stereotypes, but I think if parents and teachers are more aware it will make a difference,” says Grace, who reports the project has made her question her own attitudes.

“Now I question everything. Do I like maths or not? Am I only saying that because I’ve been influenced?”

Helena also believes the project has made her more aware of the language she uses. “I now say firefighter and police officer and that’s changed.”

Their aim is to spread awareness that the community still has a problem with unconscious gender bias.

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