Improving Gender Balance Scotland is a partnership between Skills Development Scotland (SDS), the Institute of Physics (IOP) and Education Scotland.
A new project challenging ideas that some school subjects are 'just for girls' or 'just for boys' has been launched at Belmont Academy.
The project's officers are working to empower pupils, teachers, parents and local authorities to address the complex issues that can lead to stereotyping when it comes to picking school subjects, and supporting them to challenge traditional career choices.
The project will include sessions with girls to build confidence and resilience, time with subject teachers to look at enhancing pupils' experiences with science subjects and work with the wider school community, including parents.
Improving Gender Balance Scotland is being delivered in six school clusters in five regions - South Ayrshire, North Ayrshire, Glasgow, Fife and West Lothian. School clusters include a secondary school and the associated primary, early learning and additional support needs establishments linked to it.
Kirsteen Campbell, SDS Director of Corporate Services and a former pupil of Belmont Academy where the project was launched said: "By involving the whole school community, we can empower pupils to make choices based on their interests and abilities alone, and help them to recognise the wealth of opportunity a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) career in Scotland offers.
"We know there's work to be done in this area, only 29.3% of physics Higher entrants are female, and that's having an impact on the careers open to young women later in life.Improving Gender Balance Scotland has a role to play in work being undertaken across the country to address issues facing STEM industries and help to create a pipeline of talent going into STEM careers and apprenticeships."
The early years and primary school work of Improving Gender Balance Scotland looks at preventing early bias in career choices, when it's known most young people first form ideas for their future career. In the senior phase, a particular focus will be on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) to encourage more diverse subject selection choice, and prepare young people for the world of work.
Figures show an inequality of uptake of STEM subjects by young women in higher and further education. When young women do take on a STEM subject, 73% do not go on to a STEM occupation*. Only 13% of all STEM jobs in the UK occupied by women.**
The project was officially launched with the help of pupils from participating schools Belmont Academy and Kincaidston Primary School in Ayr.
Cabinet Secretary for Education & Lifelong Learning Angela Constance said: "Gender equality is a priority for the Scottish Government, including in our world-leading science and engineering sectors, which is why we're targeting investment to support and secure the place of women in industries where they have been under-represented for too long. A key aim of our Developing the Young Workforce programme is to encourage girls to consider the exciting opportunities presented by learning about STEM subjects and to support them to study and pursue careers in those sectors.
"By directly involving young people, parents and teachers, the new partnership between SDS, the Institute of Physics and Education Scotland will develop practical solutions to challenge myths and gender stereotyping in STEM subjects and careers. The ideas and approaches developed through this initiative will be shared more widely to ensure that many more learners can benefit from the wealth of opportunities that STEM subjects offer."
Councillor Margaret Toner, Lifelong Learning Portfolio Holder for South Ayrshire Council said: "It is vitally important that all our pupils have the opportunity to succeed and learn to best of their ability. Gender should not be a barrier to learning and this initiative will give female pupils the confidence and support they need to take subjects such as engineering and technology which can be male dominated. I hope the project is a success and look forward to hearing more about the work as it develops."
Jessica Rowson, Girls into Physics project manager at the Institute of Physics, said: "Clinging to gender stereotypes narrows young people's life choices.
"By encouraging young people to discuss and challenge these stereotypes, we hope to break down these barriers and allow students to choose and excel in the subjects they might not otherwise have chosen."
Ian Menzies, Senior Education Officer for Sciences at Education Scotland, said: "Teachers across Scotland recognise that promoting gender equality in STEM subjects is crucially important. Many are rightly passionate about this issue and are looking for ways to address this complex problem which has persisted for too long.
"This partnership will allow us to develop effective approaches which can be shared nationally so all learners can benefit from the exciting opportunities and skills that STEM subjects offer."
Joanna Murphy, Vice Chair of the National Parent Forum of Scotland said: "Parents play a crucial role in helping their child think about how their interests, skills and strengths can feed into subject choices at school, and how these can connect to a career path. As parents, we hope that our child will have a fulfilling and rewarding career, but in order to achieve this, we need to help our children think beyond the stereotypes and to follow their interests, not the herd.
"Our ideas of the jobs or subjects we think 'girls tend to do' or 'boys tend to do' could be limiting our child's life choices and potentially shutting off avenues that could lead to a positive and rewarding career."
The launch of the project follows the publication of SDS's Equalities Action Plan for Modern Apprenticeships in Scotland, which sets out action SDS and partner organisations will take to address the low numbers of young disabled people, those from black minority ethnic (BME) backgrounds, care leavers entering Modern Apprenticeships as well as addressing gender imbalance within the uptake of occupational frameworks.