A small girl playing with wooden blocks.

Breaking the gender bias

Mum and business director Ashleigh Whatley-Purdy shares her views and tips on challenging gender stereotypes in childcare and at home.


As a mother of a young boy, I find that equipping our young children with the tools to think laterally on gender can sometimes be tricky, as naturally occurring gender bias and stereotypes are very much present in today’s society. However, leading our children in the right direction on these issues should not be difficult; it should be natural for both parents and childcarers, and we play an essential role in making this a reality.

Today, we have plenty of examples where women are empowered and subsequently striving AND succeeding in business roles ahead of their male counterparts. We often read of the first female CEO in such a company’s 200-year history. There is still much work to be done in stamping out discrimination of women in some dark corners, but the ship has set sail and will determinedly reach its destination.

The world is still very much weighted towards bias in the career market. For example:

Firefighters and nurses – good examples of typical role models that children will regularly emulate in play. Unfortunately, there are still numerous examples like this across the UK’s workforce, so despite the best intentions of many companies who rightly strive to balance any gender bias within these roles, the numbers still demonstrate stereotypes.

Closer to home, in the busy recruitment office I run, would we employ a male consultant on our nanny desk? If the right candidate presented themself and had a passion and good understanding of childcare, absolutely!

Of course, gender bias shouldn’t be examined in isolation. Many other forms of discrimination (race, age, sexuality, size, style, disablement) are gradually being worked on too by society, as it should, within the confines of sound judgment.

Forty years ago, ingrained bias might have guided a nanny or caregiver towards leading a little girl to the nurse dress-up station. With public understanding and awareness in a much better position now, it is unlikely that, in a playroom scenario, caregivers would steer a little boy away from wanting to be a nurse or a little girl from wishing to be a firefighter. Nowadays, childcarers will assist children in their choices on this level. Entertainment venues, such as Kidzania, also allow children to be anything they wish to be without fear of reprisal. The movement has come on a long way, but initiatives that raise further awareness of these issues should be continued.

We can all fall into the old stereotypes.

“Boys are stronger and faster than girls. Boys like blue; girls like pink. Boys like to play with trucks; girls like dolls…”. To help break the bias, we approach gender naturally and neutrally in our home.

For example:

  • Henry has dress-up clothes for both princesses and also cowboys.
  • Henry has a pink buggy and a baby.
  • Henry loves the colour pink, and we encourage him to choose his own colours and clothes.
  • When shopping, we don’t take Henry to the traditionally considered boys’ toys. We encourage him to choose his own route.
  • Henry helps me with my makeup, and he loves a bit of gloss!

In conclusion, letting children explore who they wish to be should be encouraged with guidance and mindfulness. Boys wishing to wear skirts or girls wanting to dress as Bob the builder is natural and a vital part of young children’s play and development, encouraging them to become whoever they want to be.



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