The new program aims to provide the next generation with access to some of the leading female minds within STEM professions across a diverse range of industries.
Over the course of the program, students will be encouraged to build a comprehensive STEM resume complete with personality profiles, career roadmaps and accomplishments, hard and soft skills, along with their preferred mentor journeys.
An interactive ‘Women in STEM’ Press conference will also see students gain valuable insights from their preferred STEM mentors to help navigate their own future careers.
The Women in STEM program, offered free to students, parents, teachers and schools across Australia, is designed for students from Year 7 to tertiary.
Participants can expect to learn from a stellar mentor line-up, including Sandra Hogan, a senior Data Analytics specialist at SAS Australia, Anastasia Cammaroto, Chief Information Officer at Westpac Consumer Bank, Vanessa Sulikowski, Technical Solutions Architect at Cisco and Sonia Haque, Consulting Director at Deloitte.
“Our team is incredibly excited to be launching the Women in STEM program to highlight the career pathways of the leading female STEM professionals in Australia. These women are outstanding role models for our younger generation and proof that women are leading the way in STEM,” Lisa Paul AO PSM, Chair of the Day of STEM Education Advisory Board, says.
The intitive represents a step forward in the pursuit of achieving improved levels of gender distribution within Australia’s STEM fields. Concerns around Australia’s gender distribution across STEM fields have emerged since an online report from the Office of the Chief Scientist indicated that women only comprised of 16% of the STEM workforce as of 2011.
The report also detailed that while the gender distribution within science was nearly equal, the inequality in engineering was stark, with 93% of professionals being male. However, there was cause for optimism with figures indicating a 23% rise in the number of females with STEM qualifications between 2006 and 2011.
Despite the growing rates of female involvement within STEM fields, the continued existence of gender inequalities may hint at a problem that lies in the pedagogical frameworks adopted by schools across the country.
“I think we need to cultivate dispositions in young women that they can do anything,'' Dr Jane Hunter, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Education at the University of Technology Sydney, and post-doctoral researcher in STEM education, comments on the issue.
“There are still gender stereotypes around who does what kind of work. I think, up until school age, the screen culture that many young girls are exposed to can be very stereotyped therefore when young girls arrive at school, in Kindergarten, they already have pre-conceived ideas about what women and men do.
“If they are not provided with role models to actually challenge those ideas it’s very difficult for them, as they progress through primary school and into high school, to keep their options open.”
While Hunter recognises and commends the efforts of the Day of STEM platform in implementing the Women of STEM interactive mentor program, she says mentorship programs need to be implemented at earlier stages of education.
“Stories about women in leadership positions are very powerful for young girls, adolescent girls. I would go so far as to say that they need to extend their reach into primary schools. I actually think it’s too late once they get to high school.
“We have to start that interest and vision of STEM and women in STEM right from Kindergarten and I’ve done research that actually supports this need.
“Yes by all means, provide role models but if we can actually have women in leadership positions doing mentor work in STEM in primary schools, that would be even more wonderful.”
November 2016 saw another report published on the Office of the Chief Scientist website, titled, “Busting Myths About Women in STEM”.
The short report, intended to debunk “false perceptions about women’s aptitude, interest and experience in STEM”, provides data that hints at underlying reasons for fewer women opting to undertake STEM qualifications at a tertiary level.
In light of the strikingly low levels of female participation within engineering fields, the report suggests female participation in STEM may be directly proportional to the degree of cultural inclusion experienced within a country.
The report contends that some of the main reasons driving student decision making stem from their attitudes towards ‘identity, perceived ability, and aspiration.’ When considering research suggesting that young adolescent girls tend to outperform their male counterparts at STEM-related work, the crisis of confidence they experience becomes clearer.
Hunter’s argument is consistent with the report’s finding.
“I think that high schools have addressed the issue around girls successfully doing high level maths and science and also we know that girls outperform boys in high level maths and science.
“But often it’s not the evident in the numbers. A boy will overestimate his ability the STEM disciplines as opposed to a girl who is actually more able, who will underestimate her abilities in STEM.
“There’s an innate lack of self-confidence that some young women seem to have and turning that around needs to be consciously fostered in high schools. Teachers need to be acutely aware of how they encourage hesitant young women who are able, to be able to do high level maths and science subjects.”
The Women in STEM program, with its eclectic portfolio of mentors appears to acknowledge and address the self-confidence issues that may lie at the heart of the gender distribution problem. However, Hunter’s own experience and research leads her to contend that role models may be closer to home than you might think.
“I think fathers have a really big role to play in working with schools. Schools have so much to do, so if we can integrate successful dads who have STEM jobs as well as women who do - we will be on the front foot."
The Women in STEM program is just the latest project to suggest that LifeJourney, the U.S based company operating the Day of STEM platform, has a keen eye on Australia’s STEM future.
Last year, LifeJourney launched ‘Australia 2020’, another forward-thinking platform that provided students with a rare opportunity to hear leading STEM professionals deliver exciting perspectives and predictions on the future of Australia’s STEM industries.