The federal government has handed out the first round of its AU$8 million Women in STEM kitty in a bid to encourage more female involvement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-based careers.
The AU$3.9 million in funding will be spread across 24 organisations to roll out projects aimed at building interest in STEM for primary school age students, supporting post-graduates and women already pursuing STEM careers, and encouraging entrepreneurship among women.
According to the government, 55 percent of STEM graduates are female, but only one in four IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women also occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and research institutes, and are less than half the overall STEM workforce.
In a statement issued by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Tuesday, it was said that the newly funded projects are part of a “concerted, national effort” to overcome the cultural, institutional, and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM and choosing careers that require STEM skills.
Recipients of the funding include: Melbourne-based Girl Geek Academy, which focuses on those aged 5-8 years with one-day events and online STEM and entrepreneurship training; Canberra-based CBR Innovation, which offers 10-week workshops for young females; Geelong Manufacturing Council, which is developing manufacturing and engineering-based careers for women in the local area; and Verco Engineering, based in Clare, South Australia, which offers workshops for 1,000 year 9 and 10 students in regional SA.
The AU$8 million Women in STEM funding was originally announced as part of Turnbull’s AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda, unveiled a day shy of one year ago.
At the time, AU$48 million was pledged to improve STEM literacy, along with AU$51 million to help Australian students embrace the digital age and prepare for future jobs. The Women in STEM funding originally totalled AU$13 million, which also included the expansion of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot to cover more science and research institutions; establish a new initiative under the “Male Champions of Change” project; and partner with the private sector to celebrate female STEM role models.
“We want to be a national culture of innovation, of risk takers, because as we do that, we grow the whole ecosystem of innovation right across the economy,” Turnbull said while handing down his agenda. “As we become more experienced, more innovative, more agile, and more prepared to take on risks we become a culture of ideas because it is the ideas boom which will secure our prosperity in the future.”
In June, the prime minister announced the investment of AU$31.2 million in internships and post-school career advice to push women into a STEM-based career.
This is comprised of AU$28.2 million to help the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute expand its PhD internships to 1,400, with a particular focus on female researchers; and a further AU$3 million to create and develop a National Career Education Strategy to ensure that career advisors are employed in schools across the country.
Earlier this year, the Australian Office of the Chief Scientist released a report that found as of 2011, there were 2.3 million people in Australia — approximately 10 percent of the population — with qualifications in STEM-based fields.
The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy, and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates.
As well as the gender imbalance in some STEM fields was the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields, with the report highlighting that the differences could not be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.
Speaking with ZDNet in October, Angela Fox, managing director for Dell Australia and New Zealand, has said it is everyone’s responsibility to encourage change and promote equality in the workplace.
Speaking about engaging more women in IT-related fields, Fox said it is important to keep the dialogue open, because the challenge lies with how to drive real outcomes.
“I think that can be as simple as the education of the people that are influencing those girls’ choices,” she said.
“Strong role models, healthy role models — they don’t all have to be female — I think it’s somebody that’s advocating, and somebody that’s got that person’s best interests at heart.”