STEM = Science, technology, engineering, medicine + maths

The gender gap is one problem worth solving, but it’s clear that the STEMder gap is dire, too.

We wish we could sugar up the stats but the numbers just aren't moving. Currently only 16% of STEM qualified people in Australia are female (Office of the Chief Scientist, 2016), females are significantly under-represented in science and engineering disciplines across all OECD countries, and like the gender gap, the STEM-der Gap is dire.

The OECD reports that there are 0.6 females to every male graduating with science degrees and in a recent Australian Government National Innovation and Science Agenda Report it states that only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women.

Further, the Australian Computing Society (ACS, 2015) reports that only 16.3% of young people choose computing and engineering pathways and of that, only 2.8% of females are choosing computing.

If we look at the tertiary and research sector, the participation rates are consistently the same: women occupy just one in five senior positions in Australian universities and research institutes.

So it’s clear that the STEM-der gap is real, and not going to go away.

This is a critical problem. Why?

Because STEM matters.

It matters because we know the future of Australia will rely heavily on science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) - disciplines at the core of innovation - to sustain economic growth, compete in the emerging sectors that new technologies will create, and to enable new approaches to cross-sectoral innovative problem-solving for challenges now and into the future.

It matters because if we don’t equip a new generation with the STEM skillsets, mindsets and techsets that will fuel the fastest growing industries, we as a nation will be left behind.

According to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitive Report 2015/16, Australia continues to lag behind most advanced economies in innovation (we just tumbled from 19 to 23 on the Global Innovation Index).

So we critically need to harness the potential of all to play a part in this, and that includes encouraging and educating girls so they step up to STEM, grow their STEM and enterprise skillsets and mindsets, and best equip themselves to participate in the future of work.

Currently, 75% of the fastest growing occupations require STEM skills and knowledge, demand for qualified graduates in STEM fields is growing exponentially, and over the next 10 to 20 years it is expected that over 40% of the workforce will be replaced by technological advances and automation (PwC, 2015). And yet Australia has a declining rate of STEM-related course completions which have decreased over the past 10 years from 22% to 16%.

This is a problem for us all, because the decline factor in the number of skilled and ready-for-work graduates is creating a ‘digital innovation bottleneck’ within Australian businesses. We need the  talent but the pipeline is kind of empty.

The world of work has changed. Cross-sectorally there is an urgent need for a workforce that can think creatively, problem-solve, innovate, cultivate and apply enterprise skill-sets, and embrace STEM to keep up with advancements in technology, ongoing digital disruption and relentless global competition that will render many businesses redundant, and current economic policies obsolete.

To turn this problem around, it will take a concerted, national effort between politicians, educational institutions, industry leaders and businesses, and it will also take a breakdown of the multiple cultural, institutional and organisational barriers that discourage girls and women from studying STEM, and that limit their opportunities to pursue careers in this space.

We need a movement. And it will take time.

But a big part of this is actually showing girls what they can be.


STEM role models matter. 

Girls can't be what they can't see. 

And don't know what they don't know.

So we need more STEM role models inspiring girls, science teachers, educators, media, entrepreneurs, executives, manufacturers, editors and policy-makers so more girls start to see what they could be and select into the mix.

We need to increase awareness, participation and diversity in STEM so we can reshape and upskill the future workforce.

This is what will start to bring up the numbers. 

At Girledworld we're honoured to have the support and expertise of amazing female STEM mentors talking to and teaching girls STEM, and showing them some of the great careers built on STEM.

Our girledworld community was lucky enough to learn from, meet and have the chance to chat with these awesome trailblazers at the girledworld World of Work Summit at RMIT University on Saturday June 16 and Sunday June 17, 2018.

This was be a jam-packed weekend of education, empowerment and hands-on learning where girls were inspired by global and local leaders in tech, could deep dive coding, hear from extraordinary STEM leaders about how they started, and push their career thinking to reimagine what is possible for them if they embrace STEM and skill-build for the new World of Work.


Madeleine Grummet + Edwina Kolomanski
Co-Founders girledworld