In December 2018 the Australian Gender Equality Council (AGEC) released its inaugural report, Hands Up for Gender Equality (HUGE), a world-first research piece setting out the facts with regards to gender differences in adolescent children. HUGE reports on the key findings of major study into the confidence and career intentions of 10,000 adolescent girls and boys and provides important insights for future campaigns and activities of AGEC and our Member Organisations. The research was undertaken in a bid to dispel common myths about differences in the confidence of adolescent boys and girls, and to understand better the factors that influence career intentions and choices. What it revealed what ground-breaking.

Dr Terry Fitzsimmons, AGEC’s Managing Director, led the research together with Professor Victor Callan and Dr Miriam Yates of the University of Queensland Business School. The project was inspired by findings of a 2011 study into the lack of female CEOs of listed public companies in Australia, which highlighted key differences between men and women in the areas of self-efficacy, leadership development pathways and the relative lack of women entering some STEM careers.

Hands Up was designed to shed further light upon factors that shaped gender differential experiences had in high school years, and how they subsequently impact gender disparity in certain industries and senior leadership roles in particular.  The research was conducted among 10,000 girls and boys in high matriculation schools as they produce significantly more university applicants and are actively working to improve leadership, self-efficacy and the career outcomes of the student bodies.

The key findings of the research showed:

Self-confidence: There was no difference between confidence levels of girls and boys at any age

Activity Predictors: The activities which predict self-confidence are: i) travel ii) team sport iii) participation in leadership roles and leadership development. Conversely, computer gaming and social media usage were identified as the greatest detractors from self-confidence development

Work desires: The study found girls and boys listed their reasons for wanting to work identically, by order and by proportion. The one critical exception was where girls ranked the need to help others as fourth in their reasons for wanting to work whereas this ranked much lower for boys.

Priorities: The research found a significant difference by gender in preferences for activities related to particular career domains and therefore the career domains themselves

Unsupervised Activities: Activities which do not have direct adult oversight (although they may have a role in framing them) are a significantly greater source of self-confidence

Study: Girls spend more time per week studying than boys at all ages

Age: Levels of self-confidence decline for both girls and boys as they get older

Chores: Boys are more likely to engage in outdoor chores. Similar findings emerged from the Westpac ‘Kids and Money’ 2016 report. When combined, it would seem to indicate that outdoor chores are more valued by parents in terms of remuneration

Part-time jobs: Those with part-time jobs had greater levels of self-confidence than those without

Travel: Travel – particularly intra-state and inter-state – has a great impact on self-confidence.

Participation: Students who held a leadership role, past or present, enjoyed significantly higher social efficacy compared to those who had not

Awareness: Boys had a greater and earlier understanding of their mother’s and particularly their father’s occupations and qualifications

Privilege: Boys are privileged with 1.5 times the amount of campus space compared to girls, and 3 times the amount of outdoor play area compared to girls.

Hands Up puts to bed once and for all the ubiquitous myth that adolescent boys are more confident than adolescent girls. The research also clearly demonstrates that boys’ and girls’ confidence levels are influenced similarly, to the same extent, by the same activities such as travel, sport, part-time jobs and leadership roles.

However, the study also revealed some fascinating insights, particularly that boys are more likely to perform outdoor chores, for which they are compensated better than girls, who tend to perform indoor chores. Traditional societal roles still seem to be being shaped in childhood as evidenced by boys’ greater awareness of parental career choices, and the desire to help others by girls as a top five career motivator.

The HUGE Report and study are a watershed moment in understanding the roots of gender inequality. Clearly, when adolescent boys and girls have the same confidence levels, and are influenced equally by the same activities, then logic dictates there should be no impact on a girl’s career path choice, and subsequent entry into leadership roles or into STEM careers. However, with the imbalance shown in the study’s findings on chores and physical space, this suggests that culture is to blame. We cannot expect to reach gender equality when we adopt this stance for 51% of the population.

Importantly the Report confirms that workplace and university based mentoring and similar programs will not alone increase women’s level of participation in male-dominated industries and environments.

Hands Up makes a number of recommendations for schools and parents, all contained in the full report.  The findings of the HUGE Report underline the importance of early childhood and primary education to focus on correcting gender biases in career intentions and tertiary study preferences.

A second report (HUGE 2) is due for release later in 2019, focussing on the findings from the qualitative interviews and to provide a deeper insight into influences in school on leadership development and attitudes to gender.

AGEC has presented its research report findings to the various State Ministers for Education and the Federal Office of Women and Minister for Women. AGEC is seeking support for a comprehensive National Study building on this initial work, and is seeking support from government and the corporate sector to undertake this important work.

Read full report here