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Hands up for gender equality

A major study into confidence and career intentions of adolescent girls and boys
Gender differences Career development Gender equality Gender equity Secondary education Single sex schools Youth Queensland

Research into gender disparity and access to senior leadership roles continues to highlight key differences between men and women in a number of areas. These differences include levels of self-efficacy, leadership development pathways and the smaller numbers of women entering some STEM careers. This research indicates that some of the causes of continued gender disparity in certain industries, and in gaining access to senior leadership roles in particular, can be traced to influences surrounding the experiences and decisions made in childhood and early high school years by boys and girls. The current study was designed to shed "further light upon the attitudes, experiences, activities and decisions of Australian boys and girls in these formative years."

The Hands up for Gender Equality project was scoped by Dr Terrance Fitzsimmons and Professor Victor Callan of The University of Queensland Business School, in cooperation with the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, the Australian Gender Equality Council, JIIG-CAL Australia and thirteen of the highest university matriculation achieving single sex schools throughout South East Queensland. The project arose primarily from the findings of a study into the reasons for the lack of female CEOs in listed public companies in Australia (Fitzsimmons, 2011). In addition, another major driver for the current study was a study that examined the heightened levels of gender inequality in Western Australia through the ‘Filling the Pool’ report (Fitzsimmons & Callan, 2015) undertaken by the Committee for Perth.

The decision to select single sex schools was primarily to control for the potential effects that co-education may have upon girl’s self-confidence. The decision was based upon extensive research that indicates gendered barriers in workplaces, related to structures surrounding male ways of working, have contributed to undermining women's self-confidence. Likewise, studies of differences between adolescent boy’s and girl’s self-esteem have also shown that girls have significantly less self-esteem than boys (Robins, Trzesniewski, Tracy, Gosling and Potter, 2002). However, those studies were conducted in mixed sex environments without regard to controlling the environment of the sample. The current study set out to deliberately measure self-confidence for girls in an environment that was less likely to be the subject of these potential barriers and/or influences, and to identify whether such an environment has an effect upon levels of self-confidence.

Debate has continued over the last decade as to whether women are less confident than men and whether this is innate or socially constructed (Eagly & Carli, 2007; Fox, 2017; Sandberg, 2014). However, to date, there have been few examinations into whether boys and girls actually differ in self-confidence, and what experiences and activities may act to impact upon levels of selfconfidence. Further, while we understand that career intentions, including STEM careers, are developed early, little is known about what these intentions are upon entering high school and whether these change over the time spent in high school.

Understanding whether these gender differences exist under all conditions was seen as filling a large gap in the knowledge required to address gender inequality in the workplace by the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC) and the Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, who asked the AIBE Centre for Workplace Gender Equality to undertake this study. The Alliance of Girls’ Schools Australasia, who initially approached the research team with the hypothesis that single sex girls’ schools might be a context in which to test confidence in boys and girls, were also instrumental in facilitating access to the schools surveyed and assisted in scoping the questions to be put to students.

Throughout the report we use the terms selfconfidence and self-efficacy interchangeably, since the measurement tool used in this research applies the term self-efficacy to what is, in everyday language, considered to equate to self-confidence. The instrument used in the surveys measures general self-efficacy as well as social self-efficacy. General self-efficacy is one's belief in one's ability to succeed in specific situations or tasks, while social self-efficacy is one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed in interpersonal engagements. When combined, the results of these two measures are often used to describe self-confidence generally.

This report analyses and reports upon the results of surveys conducted with 10,076 students at single-sex schools that are drawn from among the top schools with regard to matriculation results in Queensland.

Additional sources of empirical data were collected and have been represented throughout this report to develop a broader understanding of the results presented.


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