One of the country’s largest education companies has launched guidelines to “flip” gender stereotypes in school resources and exam papers.
Pearson, which owns exam board Edexcel and produces textbooks for schools, has said it is making the first commitment of its kind to tackle gender bias.
The guidelines say employees should “avoid unconscious bias” in behaviours ascribed to a gender when creating learning materials for children – for example, “a woman being sensitive”, or “a man being assertive”.
The guidance, developed with The Fawcett Society, adds that staff should “promote women and girls in traditionally masculine roles and vice versa”.
This could include showing girls dressing up as a firefighter or astronaut, or playing with trucks, while showing boys watering plants, playing in a pretend kitchen, or performing in a dance competition, it says.
Staff are advised to make sure they have female robots, dinosaurs, and animals, but to avoid ascribing stereotypically feminine or masculine traits or appearances – such as adding “long eyelashes to an animal to indicate they are female or a bow tie to indicate they are male”.
The gender equality guidelines add that employees should “look for and remove unconscious bias in fictitious graphs/tallies/data” – such as a tally of full-time salaries where the majority of men are paid more than women.
Gender-neutral terms should be used rather than the generic term “man”, such as “humankind” rather than mankind, and the singular “they” as a pronoun should be used “where possible”, the guidance adds.
The company, which has acknowledged the long-term negative impact that gender stereotyping has on children, will use the guidelines to develop all of its future textbooks, digital resources and qualifications.
Meanwhile, another book, My Shadow And Me, depicts a single father in a caring role and toys are gender-neutral, Pearson said.
The guidelines will be rolled out to the company’s 22,500 employees in 70 countries over the next 12 months.
Sharon Hague, Pearson’s senior vice president of UK Schools, said: “Gender stereotypes strike early and hit hard. The messages we give children, at home, at school and as a society, have a tremendous bearing on the choices we make.
“As the leading learning provider, Pearson has the power to support teachers to dispel gender bias, flip stereotypes and play an important part in opening up the choices available to young people.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of The Fawcett Society, said: “We are really encouraged that staff at Pearson have recognised the importance of challenging gender stereotypes and want to play their part in making a change.
“These guidelines are a practical way to make a real difference.”