Australia's STEM Gender Problem Is Getting $3.9m In Government Funding

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It's not news that women are underrepresented in STEM related studies and professions. Only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and research institutes, and are less than half the overall STEM workforce.

To address this, $3.9 million in funding has just been secured by 24 organisations to rollout projects that will encourage girls and women to study and pursue careers in science, technology, engineering and maths.

The funding is the first round of the $8 million Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grant program under the National Innovation and Science Agenda.

The objectives of these recently funded projects range from building interest in STEM for primary school age students, to supporting post-graduates and women already pursuing STEM careers, and encouraging entrepreneurship among women.

Here's details on the projects funded by these grants:

The Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE) will hold a school specifically for women at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO). The school will be targeted at 1st year University students with an emphasis on women in STEM and their career opportunities in nuclear science and engineering.

AINSE will invite a female student from each of its 35 Australian University members to attend the school and experience the infrastructure and leadership roles at ANSTO, along with a mentoring program.

Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering will produce a series of up to 20 video profiles utilising female role models in STEM industries to be integrated into the Science and Technology Education Leveraging Relevance (STELR) program but with a focus to develop girls taking up STEM fields.

CBR Innovation Network will create an out-of-school, 10-week programme for girls in Canberra and the nearby regional area. The programme will be run four times over a two-year period and is designed to develop girls STEM skills, entrepreneurial skills and provide them with knowledge of the STEM entrepreneurial career pathways available.

The activities in this project include skills workshops, career presentations, and field trips, connections with female STEM mentors, role models and speakers.

Education Changemakers's grant will help support a project that will focus on thirty female teachers or educators from regional areas attending three workshops and providing them with the tools required to implement change initiatives in their areas.

Coaching, mentoring, online learning will also be used and case studies developed. The aim of the project is to identify the issues, develop strategies, prototyping, and leadership and impact assessments to improve tertiary enrolments' for girls in rural areas.

Florey Neuroscience Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health Women in Science Parkville Precinct (WiSPP) is a collective impact initiative involving five of Australia's largest medical research institutes, representing over 4000 scientists solving health problems in immunity, childhood disorders, brain disease and cancer.

The aim of the project is to support and measure the impact of WiSPPs collective initiatives to overcome the barriers for women to excel and succeed in gaining leadership positions.

Geelong Manufacturing Council aims to support, promote and encourage women in manufacturing and engineering in the Geelong area. By offering a series of initiatives, presentations including guest speakers and role models, workshops, networking events and mentor training, this project will assist in the development of careers' of women in this regional area.

With a history in fabrication, Geelong is currently transitioning to high-skilled advanced manufacturing and this project is to ensure women are a significant part of this.

Girl Geek Academy aims to train teachers to deliver science curricula (algorithmic thinking, computational thinking, software development and coding) in schools across Australia. The project focuses on girls aged 5-8 years and consists of one-day events, on-line training and on-going support.

Aligned with the National Digital Technologies Curriculum, the goal is to increase awareness and participation of girls in STEM and entrepreneurship education at the earliest schooling opportunity.

Golden West Apprenticeships is running a program called Engineering Girls on the Downs which aims to provide school based engineering traineeships to six girls based in the Darling Downs area of Queensland. The program is designed to help eliminate some of the barriers that exist stopping girls from pursuing STEM and entrepreneurship education and careers.

Upon successful completion of the program the girls will receive a nationally recognised qualification in Certificate II in Engineering. It is expected this will allow a pathway to an engineering apprenticeship or to university, depending on their choices and desires that will emerge during the traineeship. The program will also involve female mentorship sessions run by a mentor who currently works in the industry.

James Cook University is running a She Flies Drone Camps: Building Northern Australia's Drone Ecosystem project. The project will focus on developing a series of camps aimed at teaching high school girls and their teachers or parents the possibilities of working with, and flying drones from design and coding through to flying and finally using photography to create maps.

Murdoch University will be hosting a series of Showcase Days for Perth schoolgirls in early high school (Years 8 to 10) with the aim of demystifying career prospects within the STEM field. The Showcase Days will feature a range of inspirational women speakers, whose talks will be recorded and made available to other female students through the School of the Air and Isolated Distance Learning.

In addition, workshops will be held with parents and teachers in their roles as primary influencers of female students. The object of these workshops is to give more information on helping girls decide what subjects to study.

eLearning specialists Peopleplan and social enterprise Young Change Agents have partnered for this program. Young Change Agents have successfully delivered design-thinking based social entrepreneurship programs to more than 200 youth in NSW during 2016.

The objective of the program is to teach young people to see problems as opportunities, through critical thinking, creativity and communication. The WISE grant will enable the partnership to build the capacity of teachers through digital learning and an expansion of the face-to-face programs and youth incubators for teenage girls in regional NSW, Queensland and the NT.

Resource Industry Network will develop toolkits, courses, provide coaching and implement strategies addressing gender inequity in the Mackay region. The project aims to increase the representation of women in STEM fields and leadership within the Mackay Isaac Whitsunday region by changing community perceptions, workplace culture, the make-up of leadership groups and educational attraction for girls.

RMIT University's project targets high school girls from years 7 to 9 and involves a series of workshops and mentoring activities to provide students hands-on experience in STEM-related activities to explore the creative possibilities of STEM disciplines.

SBE Australia aims to develop a STEM-focussed early stage accelerator program for women that will provide the resources and network guidance to help women with STEM backgrounds seize entrepreneurial opportunities and build confident business foundations.

Subsea Energy Australia's project is about improving participation rates of women in subsea engineering. It involves availing a series of workshops and networking events, as well as the creation of education materials and development programs, specific to the subsea sector and engineering for women.

Science & Technology Australia is the national peak body for Australia's scientists and those working in technology. The project, Superstars of STEM, will support thirty women currently employed in STEM sectors to become highly visible public role models, to encourage girls and young women's interest in STEM careers.

The project will build the women's profiles through training in public speaking, media, and communicating with influence, and through creating opportunities to practice their newly acquired skills. It will also create and support networks and mentoring.

A new sub-channel will be initiated on Australia's Science Channel. This project will develop the channel and content while ensuring Women in STEM focus is considered within all produced content. Marketed to both general and school specific audiences, this Women in STEM channel will address the gaps currently existing with women working and studying in STEM.

The University of Adelaide's Women Leaders in STEM Careers is a personal and professional development programme designed to develop young female leaders and entrepreneurs in their chosen STEM career. The personal development component includes training modules focused on confidence building, exploring the expectations and challenges faced by women undertaking STEM careers.

The professional development component exposes participants to networking opportunities through tailored panel and networking sessions, provides skills development workshops with Industry, and entrepreneurship and innovation workshops.

University of Southern Queensland's grant will support a program called WiRE (Women in Rural Enterprises), the aim of which is to develop entrepreneurship amongst women in rural, regional and remote Queensland.

University of Sydney's grant will support the ARC Centre of Excellence for All-sky Astrophysics (CAASTRO) CAASTRO in the Classroom program and the CAASTRO Galaxy Convention. The classroom program is an existing outreach activity designed to link high school students with CAASTRO's research scientists and PhD students.

This grant will extend the program to add a new exclusive girls session. The convention is a multi-day workshop for PhD candidates, university researchers, high school and university students to work with innovators and entrepreneurs to develop business ideas.

The University of Wollongong's Science Centre & Planetarium will be the lead partner for a major Festival of STEM which will feature key stakeholders from across its campuses who will deliver an extensive program of STEM based activities, primarily using women scientist as strong role models to 2,500 students over five days to inspire these students, particularly women, to pursue a future in STEM.

Verco Engineering will run a program called Super STEM Regional SA, which is aimed at high school girls in Years 9 and 10 who are approaching the period when they must choose their senior subjects.

The Warren Centre for Advanced Engineering is located within the University of Sydney. The project, The Warren Centre Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Program will use video interviews of successful STEM students, training and professional development courses to assist women to navigate a successful career and overcome gender inequity in STEM. This project will also include entrepreneurship events and personal development courses with specific STEM content.

Targeting WA high school students in years 9 and 10, Techtrails is an incursion program emphasising the importance of positive female role modelling of women in STEM careers to all genders.

The government says these 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. Applications for a second round of the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program will open in 2017.



    My daughter always wanted to be an engineer and has done just that for 10 years now working in water infrastructure.

    Last edited 06/12/16 12:57 pm

    Well there's a waste of taxpayer money.

    If someone is not motivated to pursue engineering or the sciences, no amount of "encouragement" is going to change that.

    As many people are fond of saying, "It's 2016", and there are literally no barriers to entry of STEM subjects excepting academic requirements.

      Ok... so just look away. Just ignore the imbalance in the number of graduates and women in STEM.

      there are literally no barriers...unless you open your eyes. Just have a look at the research about why women don't participate. There are many reasons...

      Lack of encouragement/active discouragement
      Negative perceptions of geeky women

      You could start with an article like this one..

      Last edited 06/12/16 3:00 pm

        The problem is there looking for equal outcome, not equal opportunity.

          No, they are asking for gender equity.

            That is an impossible dream, it misses the fundamental that men and women are different.

            Why should there be equity if the majority of women don't want it? The women who are interested in STEM can currently participate just like men. Why is this push only for STEM jobs - why don't they push for gender equity in the shitty jobs predominantly done by men - hot, exhausting, dangerous jobs? You never hear a fricken peep from anyone on gender equity in those jobs.

            Last edited 07/12/16 1:29 am

          Exactly. There is no impediment to women doing science now, nor has there been for 30 years. They simply don't WANT to do science - particularly maths, chemistry and physics. There is no shortage of women in medical science, which is a discipline overwhelming attracting women compared to other fields.

          Did anyone ever consider that maybe women generally are just not interested in those other disciplines? Men and women are different in almost every way, but for some reason people think there should be no difference in career choice. It's very odd.

          Last edited 06/12/16 8:13 pm

            I deal with community pharmacies on a daily basis, the vast majority of Pharmacists I encounter are women..

        Ok... so just look away. Just ignore the imbalance in the number of graduates and women in STEM.

        Thanks. But you're the one ignoring the reality of the situation.

        I prefer to let the statistics speak from themselves, and they say you are wrong:

        Information Technology:
        Male Applicants: 2481 - 79.95% enrolled / deferred
        Female Applicants: 458 - 71.01% enrolled / deferred

        Engineering & Related Technologies:
        Male 5312 - 78.97% enrolled / deferred
        Female 1756 - 75.08% enrolled / deferred

        In case you missed it, the data show that women have an equal chance of securing enrolment in the course of their choosing to men. The ONLY reason that there are less women graduating from these degrees is because less women apply to study them.

        Like I said, there are LITERALLY no barriers to entry to these fields. They simply don't want to study these subjects.

        You could start with an article like this one..

        Australia is not part of America, so an article discussing the Amercian education system is not really relevant in the context of Australian education.

        And the only mention of Australia was a quote from a group of women (one Australian) who said:

        Four young women — one black, two white, one Asian by way of Australia — explained to me how they had made it so far when so many other women had given up.

        “Oh, that’s easy,” one of them said. “We’re the women who don’t give a crap.”

        Don’t give a crap about — ?

        “What people expect us to do.”

        So again: In 2016, if somebody doesn't want to study science, engineering or technology, no amount of "encouragement" is going to change that.

        Last edited 06/12/16 4:02 pm

    I'm not completely convinced of the necessity in this, wouldn't the money be better put to use enabling people who are actually interested in a STEM career but are not afforded the opportunity due to economic or geographic disadvantages rather than trying to convince otherwise disinterested people?

    Last edited 06/12/16 1:26 pm

      I think women face disadvantages when pursuing a career or an interest in STEM, so I think it will be beneficial.

    What barrier? I don't see any discouragement of these subjects for girls. If they want to pursue these subjects, all they need is the right grades. Throwing money at it won't make women who don't already want to become scientists &c. want to.

      I don't see any discouragement of these subjects for girls.I'm guessing you haven't really looked then. There's lots of research about it.

        Well then I assume all girls schools that really push STEM in the curriculum are flooding universities with women entering maths, physics and chemistry. What's that? They're not. Game, set, match.

        Last edited 07/12/16 8:05 pm

    So many people in this thread are so quick to assert that there is some innate biological reason for women and men’s roles in society being different, rather than entertaining the idea that cultural biases in our society might play a factor in these things. Honestly, there appears to be no fundamental reason why women are not represented well in STEM that cant be changed by addressing these social and cultural preconceptions, and the inequalities that are still prevalent due to years of gender inequality.

      The truth is it's a bit of both, the net result is that there will never be parity, so at what point do we call it quits? Or do we force people into roles they are not suited for, for the sake of perceived equity?

      There is no fundamental reason why women are not represented better in STEM subjects, they certainly have the intellect for them. My daughter intends to study physics, not really to be a physicist, she wants to be a writer, but my legacy to her is an enthusiasm for sci-fi, and an inordinate number of good sci-fi writers are mathematicians and physicists. Maybe not the best reasoning, but it works for me. :)

        As long as women have equal opportunity (not necessarily equal outcomes), I think most reasonable people would be happy.

          Must .... not ..... make .... sexist .... comment!

    What a waste of money. Projects chock full of weasel words and non specific, vague plans to do nothing. Step 1) Hire more science teachers. Let them do cool stuff like explosions. My daughter had to have 3 lessons on bunsen burner safety before being allowed to boil water. When I asked her about making hydrogen and exploding it or chucking lumps of potassium in water she looked at me blankly and said they don't do that stuff. Step 2) Fire useless teachers, like the ones who want to wear "free the refugees" t-shirts to work instead of teaching. Step 3) Problem solved.
    Just look at this meaningless tripe that gets all the money;
    ...provide them with knowledge of the STEM entrepreneurial career pathways..
    ...providing them with the tools required to implement change initiatives..
    ...collective impact initiative..
    ...series of initiatives, presentations..
    ...entrepreneurship education.. based social entrepreneurship programs..
    ...develop toolkits..
    ...early stage accelerator program..
    ...exploring the expectations and challenges faced by women..
    ...outreach activity..

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