We need more science and tech women to stem from school.
What a time to be a young woman with a passion for research and development, science, technology, engineering and maths! With the likes of Commonwealth Bank, PwC Australia, Deloitte and CSBP making the Australian Financial Review’s top 50 innovative Australian companies earlier this year, and innovative start-ups booming onto the scene, our next generation of graduates have a lot to look forward to in the areas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Behind the success of the above companies, is a STEM qualified man or woman driving innovation and advancement, and the good news is, these skills will only become more in demand as more companies start to appreciate innovation is needed to stay ahead of competition.
Right now, there are significantly more men working in STEM fields and earning a higher pay than their female colleagues – only 16% of Australia’s 2.3 million STEM workers are women! Educating young women in early to mid-secondary school is critical to turning this around.
It’s not easy being a typical teenager at school, let alone taking part in high level science or maths subjects when perhaps you’re one of only two or three females in the class. It’s also hard knowing all the career options out there to pursue. Young teenagers can really only appreciate what they are told and what they are exposed to – for example, education, healthcare and business are some of the most popular undergraduate degrees in Australia because they are familiar fields.
But when Australia’s Chief Scientist, Alan Finkel, suggests our country imposes limits on women with talent and passion in STEM, it’s clear more needs to be done at the secondary school level to break down those barriers.
I see three immediate opportunities we need to action now in secondary schools:
- Inspire and motivate with real STEM women – Australia is home to some amazing women who have paved the way for women working in STEM fields. Classroom talks by Marita Cheng, 2012 Young Australian of the Year with specialities in robotics, or Dr Janet Lanyon who has spent 3 decades researching dugongs and partnered with Seaworld, will help to show young women what opportunities are out there in the STEM field.
- Schools to encourage and apply for STEM grants – This is possibly the best time for young women to showcase their skills and passion in STEM. From grants to support pathways into STEM through new course development, or initiatives to cover the cost of local and international STEM competitions, schools need to be proactive in seeking and supporting such opportunities.
- Talking to the young men – I think it’s critical we talk to young men in school about diversity and inclusion. Pulling women aside and telling them they can do anything is wasted if young men aren’t supportive of their involvement in science competitions or studying high levels of maths or engineering. Men need to learn from a young age about equal employment opportunities and that women can apply themselves to STEM just as well as men. It is through this education process that perhaps we can see a gender shift in years to come, when our current 15 year olds are employers and managers.
My advice to young women in high school looking at their subjects for next year is don’t dismiss STEM subjects for fear of being the only woman in the class, or thinking there’s no future in it for you. If you love analytics and research, problem solving, breaking down complex systems and making calculations to achieve an outcome, then go hard! Start your future today in STEM.
(P.S as an added incentive, STEM workers can earn the top income bracket of over $104,000 / year!)