I made the conscious decision to not choose a single-sex high school. At the time I had no real reason for resisting separation from the opposite sex, but it is not a decision I regret. I do not believe that the male presence has ever had an impact on my assertiveness. Rather, self-confidence is more dependent on the personality of the individual, than skills developed at school.
If I had to pin point one factor that is responsible for men on average being more successful in the higher ranks of business, I would not say it is due to skills learnt in the schooling environment. Instead, cultural stigmas that are still attached to gender need to be put under the spotlight. Some industries, such as banking are still thought of as being male dominated, which is a contributing factor for not as many women applying for such roles. They are not as commonly considered in the first place, when compared to the arts or care industries. I believe this is the fault of culture and past history rather than current opportunity within the UK schooling system.
The Women’s Business Council states in its rationale that ‘the choices young women make about education and careers are shaped by the interplay between cultural messages, peer and parental pressures, people they meet from the world of work and their individual self-determination’. The council takes this statement from the ASPIRE survey, by King’s College London. It is a survey based on concerns about not enough school children pursuing careers in the STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and maths). The information it provides about girls’ aspirations is what interests me in the context of this debate. I disagree that the creation of girls and boys subjects is due to being surrounded by a mixed group of peers. Looking at the ASPIRE study, it included both mixed and single-sex schools in its research and showed that girls actually ‘like’ science more than boys, however girls said they did not think of the sciences for a career. I can only put this down to our schools being part of a societal system that has been devised over past centuries. By simply separating the sexes does not solve that fact that these STEM subjects are gendered as male.
The sporting experience at my high school was of huge variation, much to my appetite. We were always encouraged to take part in the ‘male’ sports like cricket, football, and rugby, even at GCSE level. Admittedly the boys were self-proclaimed experts, but that’s part of being a teenage boy (I imagine). However, they also gave us guidance and provided a level of competition that pushed us to take the sports seriously, and therefore excel. Whether this is a competition of ego or of skill, I fail to see how the level of such competition would be healthier in a class of the same gender. Forgive the pun, but this creates a level playing field from the offset.
For me, being submerged with males and having to compete created a resilience that has served me well. The King’s College survey wrote that the girls most likely to maintain their aspiration for a career in the sciences are largely from middle-class backgrounds, demonstrating that it is more than schooling that determines the success and choices of an individual, with the issue of ethnicity was also being raised. If a girl is going to have confidence to raise her hand in class, then she will do so regardless of her school environment. At which point, the girl has shown her resilience to cultural expectations that are engrained into us by society.
I am product of a mixed comprehensive school, of a mixed sports club, of an all girls dance academy, and of a boisterous family environment. The result of this is that I have developed versatility when dealing with people, and I have realised that being better than a male counterpart is less important than being comparable to any form of counterpart. Thus, to conclude, I do not believe that being separated from the opposite sex is beneficial for either side of the fence. While I do not possess the extreme view that it halts the ability to communicate, I think the real answer to inequalities in success is to erase historical cultural stigmas, somehow.
Interestingly, I am now living with a house of three males and one other female, and I feel this experience has strengthened my ability to triumph over male counterparts both in social and working situations.