Breaking the STEM stigma
The Australian Government recognises that a STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) educational program is now a necessity for equipping Aussie students with the skills for our economic future. Despite the popularity and necessity of these subjects, women are still under represented in all of these industries.
Recent research revealed only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Meanwhile, fewer than one in five women occupy senior research positions in Australian universities*.
We quizzed STEM trailblazers, Telstra Business Women’s Award Alumni Dr Rowan Brookes, Dr Catherine Ball and Dayle Stevens, on why they think there is such a gender imbalance in STEM industries and what the opportunities are for women in this domain.
“STEM is an exciting industry to be part of,” says Rowan. “It’s constantly changing and filled with people who have diverse, creative skills.”
Catherine agrees. “STEM is all about challenging and creating new things. It’s not a linear path and includes more creativity and artistry than it’s given credit for.”
For Dayle, it’s about how STEM can take you anywhere: “I love that STEM is everywhere, in every industry and in everything we do. It shapes the future and it’s a privilege to be part of that.”
They all agree that despite the diverse career paths available through STEM, few women choose to pursue these fields, and, those who do, are less likely to achieve senior positions.
“STEM fields suffer from a leaky pipeline. How leaky the pipeline is depends on the discipline. Biological science, for example, graduates more women than men, but later on there’s still an under representation of women in leadership roles,” says Rowan.
“It’s not about getting women into the field, it’s about keeping them there,” says Catherine. “What needs to change is how we measure success and encourage women to thrive in the industry. For example, universities measure ‘success’ by how many papers you publish. So, if you take time off to have a family, you’re not publishing papers and therefore not able to achieve the next step. That’s not the way we should be viewing the value of our work.”
Rowan adds: “To help navigate your STEM career – no matter what work or educational stage you’re at – find a mentor. Someone who can act as your guide and advocate to help create opportunities and overcome challenges.”
Catherine reiterates that university is only one route into the STEM industry, as the skills required to thrive in STEM are diverse.
“It’s not just an industry for future generations. You can easily make a late career change, as the skills older generations have are transferable.”
Dayle says: “We need more female role models in STEM, and we need them to be visible, in the media, on our screens and in pop culture. We need to recognise and celebrate the achievements of females in STEM, too. I loved being a finalist in the 2016 Telstra Business Women’s Awards, particularly because of the large number of women in STEM being celebrated.
Dayle and Catherine both agree that women need to stay curious about STEM and they encourage women of all ages to look at the opportunities STEM careers provide.
“Encourage your children to be curious about what’s going on behind the screen. Many parents hand their child a phone or device before they can even speak, and the kids master them in moments, because curiosity and problem solving comes naturally. Encouraging our children to think beyond the screen will unlock all sorts of possibilities,” says Dayle.
STEM careers are on the cutting edge of technology. So many careers that will be available in the future haven’t even been thought of yet, because we haven’t created the tech. With more people entering the industries, the possibilities of what can be achieved are endless.
The Telstra Business Women’s Awards continues to uncover and recognise amazing women who are challenging the STEM boundaries.
Nominate an inspiring woman now telstrabusinesswomensawards.com/nominate
Meet Our Panel
- Dr Rowan Brookes, Director of Education for the School of Biological Sciences and course leader for the Bachelor of Science Advanced – Global Challenges at Monash University, Rowan seeks to transform the way STEM education is taught to prepare students for the challenges of tomorrow.
- Dr Catherine Ball, CEO and Founder of Remote Research Ranges, Co-Founder of SheFlies and Co-Creator and Technical Convenor of the World Of Drones Congress is a national leader in innovative solutions harnessing technology in environmental monitoring for engineering projects.
- Dayle Stevens is the Divisional Chief Information Officer (CIO) at National Australia Bank (NAB). She is also leader and co-founder of NAB’s Connecting Women in Technology Program, which aims to support women in technology careers, helping them achieve greater inclusive leadership across the business. She champions diversity based on gender, culture, life stage and ability in technology.