It is strange when a boy wins a competition supposedly aimed at increasing girls’ participation in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). One might even call it curious.
UK energy company EDF Energy’s “Pretty Curious” campaign aims to encourage girls 11 – 16 to “pursue science-based subjects at school and in their future careers.” While women make up nearly half of the overall UK workforce, only 14.4% of them are in STEM. The move to boost the number of girls in STEM career paths is not just altruistic on the part of EDF, but practical. To provide “affordable, long-term, low-carbon energy to the UK,” the company wants the widest possible pool of talent.
In November 2015, EDF launched the “Pretty Curious Challenge, ”a social media campaign in which kids were challenged to “come up with an inventive idea for a ‘smart’ home.” While the challenge was part of an initiative to bring more girls into STEM, the challenge was won by a 13-year-old boy. The boy won after the challenge was opened to “all children.”
Needless to say, Pretty Curious has faced an onslaught of criticism for the move.
However, this is not the program’s first foray into controversy. The very name “Pretty Curious” has drawn condemnation for focusing on girls’ appearances. EDM claims “It’s not about being ‘pretty’; it’s about being ‘pretty curious,'” and that the use of the term “pretty” was simply a play on words. Critics have said the name is just another lackluster attempt to ”girlify” science, on par with pink Legos and Science Barbie.
As Emily Schoerning, Director of Community Organising and Research at the National Centre for Science Education, wrote on her blog, “I didn’t want to be a ‘lady’ scientist, growing up. I wanted to be a scientist.”
To get more girls into STEM, why can’t we just give them encouragement and support? Why do we presume science must be “girlified” to attract girls? And why did a program that claims to focus on getting girls into STEM open their competition to boys when girls are the ones who are underrepresented?
I’d say it’s all pretty curious.