LEADING businesswomen and academics in Yorkshire have hit back at claims by a Government Minister that parents are turning their daughters away from a career in science and engineering by dressing them in pink and allowing them to play with dolls.
Consumer Affairs Minister Jenny Willott criticised the way toys are segregated for children and “don’t encourage girls to believe in their own potential”, adding that the issue is “fundamentally important to our economy as well”.
On the eve of Sheffield University opening its revolutionary engineering graduate school in her name today, engineer Pam Liversidge maintained she had succeeded in the traditionally male-dominated science sector despite her choice of toys.
She said: “I had dolls, but played with my brothers’ toys too. None of what I went on to do had anything to do with the toys I played with.”
She maintained schooling is of greater concern as choosing subjects at 14 is “cutting girls off” from careers in science and engineering.
The University of Sheffield’s Faculty Director of Women in Engineering, Professor Elena Rodriguez-Falcon, added: “Disastrously, the field of engineering loses so many talented women to caring professions because they want ‘to make a difference’.
“Ironically, making a difference is the ‘bread and butter’ of engineering and in today’s world is vitally important for the future.”
Heather Scott, headteacher of Bruntcliffe School in Morley, debunked the idea that pink is harmful to development, adding: “Pink is a powerful colour, a happy colour – that’s why girls like it.”
Pink has been a powerful colour for Ms Scott, who added: “I’ve actually got ‘pinker’ as I’ve got older.”
While her office is decorated in the colour, she stated that “gender biases are largely gone in high schools”, helped by efforts such as Bruntcliffe School’s partnership with Wates Construction in Leeds.
Their joint “The Sky Is The Limit” project gives girls an insight into careers in construction.
“In the biggest recession the world’s ever seen, we need to do these (projects),” said Ms Scott, who added: “When toy marketers use pink, they’re just interested in selling more.”
The manager of Little People Nursery in Bramley, Leeds, Linzi Page said: “We encourage the children to follow their own interests. We discourage thinking like ‘this is what boys can do’ and ‘this is what girls can do’.”
Miss Page added, left to their own devices, “girls love the blocks and train set and boys play with pushchairs”.
But campaign group Let Toys Be Toys has accused Bradford-based Morrisons of being “the most sexist of all the major retailers” because of the way it divides toys into separate collections.
A statement from the supermarket chain said: “Morrisons has updated the signage in many of our stores and removed the reference to boys’ and girls’ toys. We are aware that the old signage remains in some stores and we are working to address this.”