In Australia’s rapidly evolving, increasingly digital economy, the demand for candidates with skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics has become more crucial than ever. However, with only 30% of Australia’s roughly 600,000 university STEM-qualified employees being women, it’s important to understand that there are a range of existing imbalances and inequities present within the STEM workforce.
To improve diversity within the workforce, there’s no doubt that changes need to be made to support the inclusion of women and girls within STEM fields. Let’s explore how a qualification such as an online Master of Education (STEM) can help to break down some of the barriers that are present in this space, and how some systemic changes now can help create an industry that is well diversified in both knowledge and life experience.
The State of STEM in 2022
Barriers exist for many reasons – however, to really understand the significance of these barriers, one must first collect evidence. Australia’s STEM inequities are documented in the STEM Equity Monitor, a publication managed by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, tracking Australia’s budding STEM industry and the points in life where women and girls may choose to self-exclude or remove themselves from a potential STEM career.
Interest in STEM begins at a young age, with many students often making up their minds to pursue a STEM qualification in these formative years of education. Australia’s 2021 Youth in STEM survey explored the perception and awareness of young people on STEM careers – exploring interest, confidence, perceived importance, exclusionary criteria, and aspirations.
The findings were fascinating – highlighting behavioural changes as a result of scientists becoming the authoritative front of the fight against COVID-19. However, the interest of girls in STEM more broadly has not changed since the previous survey, conducted in 2019.
Overall, girls were half as likely to aspire to a career in STEM compared to boys, with just over one in five (21%) of girls aspiring to a STEM career. This deterioration is of concern, as it’s never been more important to strive for more diversity within the STEM workforce.
Why tackle underrepresentation in STEM?
Often quoted in fields such as data science, there’s a saying that goes that a system is only as good as the information that it’s based on. A system built by developers that have a relatively homogenous set of life experiences can inadvertently create biases – ways that systems may respond that reflect the inherent biases that groups face in society.
To develop the technology of the future, in a way that is responsible and credible, diversity will be required. Bringing on the actual lived experience of stakeholders, rather than testimony on paper, can make a world of difference – and possibly prevent the launch of products that are poorly suited for minorities, or enhance programs so that they are less prone to substantial errors.
Enforcing positive STEM attitudes
Creating a culture of positive STEM attitudes is one way to encourage more women and girls to pursue a career in STEM. This can happen in a number of different ways, including:
- Celebrating the successes of women and minorities in STEM fields, and ensuring that they’re broadly known – raising awareness of the career opportunities available through STEM qualifications.
- Breaking down stereotypes, and showcasing the diversity that is present throughout the STEM sector – reminding women that they aren’t alone in wanting to pursue a STEM career.
- Supporting the growth of underrepresented groups in STEM through the use of cadetships, scholarships, and apprenticeships.
- Embracing a culture of flexibility, allowing for programs that support underrepresented groups such as remote work or parental leave.
- Developing a network of mentorship and support, enabling experienced women in STEM to share their insights and development across
Women and girls in STEM: Leading the way
Celebrating women and girls in STEM can be crucial in helping bring to light the many successes that happen within STEM industries as a result of the contribution of women.
For example, Sharine ‘Spanner’ Milne uses her knowledge of STEM subjects in her day-to-day role as a motorcycle mechanic. It’s come with many of the hurdles faced by STEM graduates – with family needs necessitating flexibility within her work.
As technology has evolved, and introduced the use of modern computerised diagnostics to the industry, Spanner has been able to help go from working within a motorcycle workshop to starting her own business, and she now works to modify motorcycles to help those with disabilities.
Sharine is a prime example of how creating a positive STEM culture can make a difference. Given enough time, energy, and motivation, women and girls can succeed in STEM – while there’s a long way to go before there’s equity in the workforce, as long as we work towards ingraining positive attitudes and celebrating women in STEM, Australia’s on the right track towards a prosperous future in STEM.
Featured image credit: wirestock/Freepik.