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Campaign to get girls into STEM reveals competition winner — and it’s a boy

Initially — its questionable name aside — EDF Energy’s Pretty Curious campaign appeared to come from the best of intentions. After all only 1 in every 7 people who work in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) in the U.K. is female. So anything big companies do to change this has to be good, right? 

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According to the energy provider, the campaign aims to change this “by sparking the imagination of young girls, inspiring them to stay curious about the world around them, and continue pursuing science-based subjects at school — and in their careers.”

But Pretty Curious has become a talking point for another reason — a competition that was part of the campaign (and even shares the same name, branding and website) has announced that the winner is a boy.

Initially the competition was only open to girls but EDF said it was later opened up to all 11 to 16-year-olds “in the interests of fairness,” reported BBC News.

Yes, that’s right. A competition created to stop males winning everything and give females a chance to shine decided to let boys take part because it wouldn’t be fair not to.

The Pretty Curious competition asked children to think of ideas for a connected home bedroom product and 13-year-old Josh won with his games controller which harnesses kinetic energy from thumb movements using wind-up triggers.

Three of the four runners-up, whose ideas included smart curtains, a fridge gadget and a sleep monitor, were girls.

Congratulations to Josh — he entered the competition fairly and his idea was clearly awesome. But EDF’s PR team certainly don’t deserve a pat on the back for this. Why were boys allowed to enter a competition that was clearly designed for (and marketed as) a competition for girls?

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Suw Charman-Anderson, who founded the annual celebration of women in STEM, Ada Lovelace Day, told the BBC she had had reservations about the Pretty Curious campaign from the beginning.

“EDF Energy chose to link appearance and interest in Stem [sic] through the title of their campaign, despite many people pointing out that it was demeaning to girls,” she said. “Rather than challenging stereotypes, the focus on girls’ looks rather than their intelligence reinforces them. EDF Energy have failed to understand both the nature of the problem [of women in Stem] and the negative impacts that their publicity stunt may well have on girls who took part with genuine enthusiasm and excitement.”

In response to criticism on Twitter, EDF said that while “the aim of #PrettyCurious was to encourage girls into #STEM, the #PrettyCuriousChallenge was a gender-neutral competition.”

Adding, “The winner was shortlisted by a panel of judges including the all-female winning team from our #PrettyCurious Glasgow workshop.”

Can we be blamed for thinking EDF don’t really care about diversity in STEM and were simply trying to generate positive PR?

According to EDF’s marketing materials, “one third of girls think they’re not clever enough for science.” We’d like to know how they think the outcome of the Pretty Curious competition will change girls’ perceptions of STEM.

More: Who says girls aren’t good at STEM?

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