A new campaign that hoped to encourage young girls to enter STEM careers has come under fire for having a ‘sexist’ name.
Pretty Curious was launched by EDF Energy in order to increase numbers of women in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) careers. According to Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE), women make up just 14.4% of the STEM workforce — around 1 in 7. The Pretty Curious campaign wanted to change that by “sparking the imagination of young girls, inspiring them to stay curious about the world around them and continue pursuing science-based subjects and school — and in their careers”.
But critics on Twitter have accused the campaign of being sexist, comparing the name to a “celebrity perfume line”.
Emily Schoerning, Director of Community Organising and Research at the National Centre for Science Education, wrote on her blog that campaigns like Pretty Curious “do more to stereotype girls, to put them in a place, than to unleash their minds and let them on the field”.
“I hate this presumption that STEM stuff needs to be ‘girlified’ to appeal to women,” she wrote. “Historically and perhaps presently, this has been a way of pushing women scientists into a corner. This strategy appears to show interest in girls and women while in fact making sure we wear a nice pink badge at all times, drawing attention to our gender over and above our achievements as human beings”.
EDF responded to the criticism on Twitter, reassuring critics that it “purposefully chose the word ‘pretty’ to tackle the stereotype head on and create conversation around what is a very real societal issue”.
“We knew the name would attract attention and chose it in order to raise awareness of the campaign, which is aiming to address significant under-representation of women in STEM,” a spokesperson for EDF added via email. “The lack of women working in STEM is a critical issue for us. Whether one likes the language or not, the issue facing the UK is real, and we are determined to use our business to be part of the solution”.
The Pretty Curious campaign is due to hold three events in the UK, encouraging girls to take part in activities including coding, 3D printing and laser cutting. EDF also recruited several female ‘role models’ who work in STEM careers — a chemical engineer from EDF, a cosmetic scientist with her own line of cosmetics, a computer scientist who created her own app and a TV presenter with a master’s degree in biochemistry.