How many recognised female scientists, technology genius, engineering gurus, and mathematically brilliant minds do you know? Not as many as male ones I am sure. Does it mean women are not as talented in STEM subjects as men are? I don’t think so. Australia has a concerning deficit of women in science, technology engineering and maths (STEM) careers; however this is nothing to do with their capability.
Part of the problem, of course, is historical. Past policies in academia either actively discriminated against women or, at best, failed to nurture their careers.
Women were “deemed to have retired from the Commonwealth service upon their marriage“. Only in 1966 the employment restriction for married women was finally lifted. Fast forwarding to the 21st century, one of our highly regarded speakers, Madeleine McManus, has a double degree qualified in Mechanical Engineering and Commerce from Monash University which is a truly inspiring achievement.
“I have a naturally inquisitive mind, and I love solving problems creatively. Choosing engineering enabled me to have a greater choice of what I wanted to do. I am also passionate about being responsible for improving our community and environment, whilst being focused on sustainability.”
What do you think prevents students from choosing engineering, for example, as their career choice?
“Engineering is a diverse and rewarding profession, where you can explore many paths. To understand the range of options it is important to be informed, and find out what suits you. There are many resources available and Engineers Australia is a great place to start.”
While researching the topic, I got a strong feeling that many students need help with learning about what being an engineer (or any other STEM related professional) is really like. Promoting STEM is one of the ways to let people know more about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Women are no exception! Promoting STEM among female students is a challenge but not a mission impossible.
How to increase the amount of the female equivalent of Steve Jobs or Mark Zuckerberg?
- Make it cool. Many girls do well in STEM subjects at school; however don’t often take it further to the higher education level. Changing little girls’ perception of STEM at school can dramatically increase the number of female STEM graduates.
- Reward the STEM interest. An interest in science and technology needs to be cultivated at a young age, but many women are standing on the sidelines as the boys participate in science fairs. Teachers should work on more hands-on workshops for girls to learn about science and technology, enabling them to further their initial enthusiasm and interest whilst they are engaged.
- Fight the stereotype. Women don’t have enough female leaders to look up to look up to and gain inspiration from. We need more visibility so young girls know it’s not just men who are behind technology they use in their everyday lives.
Why is it so important to work on developing careers for women in engineering and science?
“Australia cannot afford to lose half its potential knowledge-makers and innovators. This limits not only national competitiveness and prosperity, but also vitality and a diversity of approaches in the wider scientific and creative workforce.” says Australian Academy of Science president Suzanne Cory.
Businesses want to recruit more women into science, technology and engineering roles need to start talking to female students while they are still at school, according to ReThink Recruitment.
Forbes claims that today women hold only 27 per cent of all computer science jobs, and that number isn’t growing. This is unsurprising when we take into account how many women are actually studying computer science in college; less than 20 per cent of bachelor’s degrees in computer science go to women, even though female graduates hold 60 per cent of all bachelor’s degrees.
Australia is missing out on a giant professional potential hidden behind the gander stereotypes and old school thinking.
The Women in STEM conference takes place in Melbourne this September, and will explore strategies for transforming the working landscape for women in this sector. Book by July 8th to save $400 on ticket prices.
In the meantime you might also want to check out our other STEM blogs >