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 regularly conduct research collaborations about STEM careers and future of work pathways, and are fortunate to have the support and expertise of amazing female STEM mentors sharing knowledge, featuring in our content campaigns and video educational assets, and showcasing great careers built on STEM.
Students can learn from, meet and have the chance to chat with STEM mentors at our large-scale World of Work Summits, career programs and 21st Century skills events (held in partnership with universities, industry and government).
These are dynamic, interactive learning experiences jam-packed with education, career pathway information and hands-on learning where students can be inspired by global and local leaders in tech, deep dive coding, hear from extraordinary STEM leaders about how they started, and push their career thinking to reimagine what the future of work might look like, and their place in it.
If you’d like to hear more, chat through partnership opportunities or share your thoughts, please reach out to us here.
Join us to make the change.
Madeleine Grummet + Edwina Kolomanski
STEM encompasses a wide range of study, research and work. It includes physics, astronomy, chemistry, geology, biology, agriculture, environmental studies, information and communications technologies, engineering, mathematics and their many related fields.
There are persistent challenges in attracting and retaining girls and women in STEM studies and careers, including entrepreneurship. This is shown by low and declining female enrolments in science and mathematics at school, persistent underrepresentation of women in IT and engineering courses at universities, and a low proportion of women in senior and leadership positions in research organisations.
Women comprise over half the science PhD graduates and early career researchers in some fields but only 17 per cent of the senior academics in Australian universities and research institutes.
Girls are often discouraged from undertaking STEM studies by their parents, teachers and peers, largely based on perceptions of limited career options, poor remuneration and residual beliefs that STEM is ‘not for girls’.
Women are squeezed out of science careers by systemic and inherently inequitable structural barriers, institutional policies, and poor career pathways. And a entrepreneurs, women have access to fewer key resources than men, including access to business networks, financial capital and management experience.
Supporting girls and women in STEM and entrepreneurship is not just about increasing the number of female students in STEM fields or the number of firms owned by women, but also about raising their performance and capabilities to build sustainable careers, grow those firms and fulfil their potential.
Addressing the barriers to women’s participation in STEM and entrepreneurship studies and careers will improve women’s overall workforce participation and help drive cultural change including increased innovation.
It is a key goal of Towards 2025: An Australian Government initiative to boost women’s workforce participation via implementation of a new strategy which outlines the practical work the Government is doing to help more women participate in the workforce.
Further, addressing these challenges helps to implement Australia’s international obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women to take all appropriate measures to ensure the full development and advancement of women and to firmly establish equality between men and women in relation to STEM and entrepreneurship participation.
With these aims in mind, the program provides funding to support women in STEM and to eliminate barriers for women’s participation in STEM education and careers, including entrepreneurship. The program supports outreach programs targeting girls and women to foster interest in STEM and entrepreneurship, to develop scientific and entrepreneurial knowledge and skills, and to build professional networks.
The program also provides funding to identify and celebrate STEM role models in science and research, entrepreneurship and corporate leadership to inspire school-age girls.
The program’s objectives are to:
increase awareness and participation of girls and women in STEM and entrepreneurship education and careers, including in schools through to university and to the research sector
increase participation of girls and women in other parts of the innovation ecosystem including innovative businesses, start-ups and entrepreneurial activities and careers
stimulate an increase in the number of women in senior leadership and decision making positions in government, research organisations, industry and businesses.
The program’s intended outcomes are to:
increase the number of girls and women participating in STEM education and careers at schools, in universities and in research organisations
increase participation by girls and women in other parts of the innovation ecosystem such as innovative businesses, start-ups and other entrepreneurial activities and careers
increase the awareness of the range of opportunities for girls and women arising from STEM education
increase the number of women role models in STEM and entrepreneurial sectors
contribute to the evidence base for future policies by providing data on girls’ and women’s participation in STEM education and careers, including entrepreneurship
produce effective strategies for improving gender equity in STEM-based organisations.