Given women are already underrepresented in leadership roles across the workforce and in STEM fields in particular, young women need to be actively empowered to participate in and create the conversation about the workforce of the future.
The University of Technology Sydney has recognised this need and is developing STEAMpunk Girls, an educational program with a vision of a more innovative Australia.
Monique Potts, the Deputy Director of the UTS Innovation and Creative Intelligence Unit, says the program aims to empower young women and give them the "agency to carve out their own careers".
"We want them to be able to imagine new possibilities and envision a future where they are working in jobs that don't exist yet," she says.
STEAMpunk Girls introduces young women (ages 12-16) to the science, technology, engineering, arts and maths (STEAM) industries, and how knowledge and technology from across these areas can be used to reframe and solve problems.
The program will be officially launched on May Day, Monday 1 May, with the pilot running from May until August. The pilot will see more than 60 students engage in problem-based learning, introducing them to STEAM, designing thinking and technical skills.
They will be challenged to develop a project related to the theme Future Earth, the schools theme for National Science Week. The pilot will conclude with a showcase event that will give students a platform to share their projects with media and industry and demonstrate the power of young women to impact Australia's, and the world's, future.
Research conducted with teachers, parents and participants throughout the program will help the team develop education interventions at the conclusion of the program, which can then be used to promote and deliver STEAM education for girls in Australian high schools.
"We've used a human-centred design approach to develop this pilot program," Potts says.
"We regard young women as 'subject matter experts' with the best level of understanding on how their peers can be engaged with STEAM.
"The approach is based on a co-design workshops held in November last year where female high school students from three schools learnt about STEAM, design thinking and interview skills, and conducted and unpacked interviews with fellow students about how STEAM can engage young women.
"These workshops were incredibly useful to help UTS develop the program but were also incredibly valuable for the young women participating.
"The young women from our November workshops have become ambassadors within their schools, talking to teachers, students and parents about their experiences and why they think STEAM is so important. They'll be talking at some of our key events this year and we hope they'll continue to benefit from the program."
Deborah Segal, a science teacher from Burwood Girls High School who attended the co-design workshops, says the exposure to the true meaning of STEAM, and the wide world of possibilities the term encapsulates, provided students with fuel for their imaginations.
"They applied this new found creativity in their collaboration through the co-design process, coming up with ideas they may have previously never considered," she says.
Teachers were a crucial part of the co-design process, providing support to their students throughout, and sharing vital information about the barriers they are facing every day in the classroom and the support they need.
Teachers have been very supportive about transdisciplinary teaching approaches but acknowledge that it's hard to establish within the classroom.
"Integrated education initiatives, such as STEAM programs, are almost limitless in their possibilities," Segal says.
"However, it is also for this reason that they are inherently difficult to implement smoothly in a traditional classroom setting. The psychology of teachers and students, as well as the realms of physical learning spaces, need serious consideration."
STEAMpunk Girls hopes to address the challenges teachers are facing by providing a program that runs in addition to students' classes but also ties in with the Australian curriculum.
Teachers will be able to highlight clear links between the program activities and classroom content to their students, encouraging them to apply the skills and experiences from STEAMpunk Girls to other learning.
"The jobs of the future will be powered by digital technology and led by entrepreneurs and tech startups," UTS Vice-Chancellor Professor Attila Brungs says.
"It is critical that policy makers, educators and industry gear up to support our next generation workforce to succeed in this changing environment and maximise the entrepreneurial spirit of today's young leaders."