International Women’s Day

Last Thursday was International Women’s Day. It is an annual day of celebration around the world but also a useful reminder that much more has to be done to achieve gender equality globally. This year’s events also coincided with the 100-year anniversary of some women securing the vote. That there are people alive today, who were born when this was not the case, still astounds me. 

So yes, we should celebrate progress when wesee it. Like seeing women filling the roles of political leaders, from different political persuasions and in different nations. However,the rate of that progress over the last hundred years also serves as a reminder that much more is needed to deliver true equality in work and in life.

I was certainly reminded of this very point at a debate on energy efficiency held on the same day. I was particularly keen to attend the debate to raise the issue of unfair electricity costs Highland residents are expected to pay. It is an issue I have been fighting to correct since being elected and will continue to pursue. 

That said, I mention the debate to readers because during another MPs speech the term “Big Boys Toys” was used to describe the large infrastructure projects. A particularly frustrating term, given that the debate was held on International Women’s Day. 

Whilst the comment was well-meaning in the context of the debate, I believe we must move away from this kind of language, especially those who make or seek to influence policy. Perpetuating the myth that engineering industries and others like it are for the “boys” will only result in holding back the possible careers of girls, and starve our future workforce of skilled women. 

Back in 2016, I was lucky enough to meet Bridget Day, a truly remarkable woman who had made a very successful career for herself in the Aerospace industry. Against all the odds, she carved a career spanning 40 years and now leads a team of engineers in the field of new technology. At the time, Bridget kindly shared her thoughts with me for a speech I was giving on young girls and STEM subjects. Her words have always stuck with me:

“As a woman in engineering I am often the only woman in the room. There is an assumption that I am the secretary and not that I am the boss. My reputation is never assumed, like a man’s often is. I always have to earn it.”

In a team of 24, Bridgette was then one of only two women, despite females making up over 50 per cent of the population. This must change. 

When I was at Highland Council, we formed the Science Skills Academy which aims to give all young people better access to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths skills. I always envisaged the project as an opportunity to give girls and young women, along with boys, more choices for their future and introduced to STEM opportunities at the youngest possible age. I am pleased that the project is now progressing well and deploying “Newton Rooms” around the Highlands.

Formal education can do wonders, but we must remember that language is also a powerful tool. Our work to remove barriers for young girls and women will not be done until we wonder what they used to mean by “Big Boys Toys”