Women need mentors and systemic changes for STEM

Generous funding for women in STEM projects is a start and some needs to be spent on programs that change the culture around STEM.
May 13, 2021
STEM culture needs to be looked at if women are to get involved

A generous $42.4 million to pursue STEM qualifications and expand the National Careers Institute Partnership Grants Program to get girls and women into STEM careers is great but some needs to be spent on programs that change the culture around STEM.

Women are still under represented in STEM disciplines, even those with tertiary qualifications in the field often don’t go on to careers in the area.

Associate Professor Linda Hobbs, Deakin University says "There are systemic problems that we need to address to make sure girls consider these opportunities."

Associate Professor Hobbs is a co-author of the Girls’ Future-Our Future reports for the Invergowrie Foundation,  and delivers a number of initiatives relating to STEM education and girls in STEM.

"Attracting young women into STEM requires starting early," says Associate Professor Hobbs. 

"This means making STEM related knowledge and skills attractive for young girls, and ensuring girls are exposed to possible STEM pathways multiple times through a girl’s education and life.

"The focus on careers advice through the National Careers Institute Partnership Grants Program is welcomed.

"While the scheme focuses on grassroots programs, it does little to address the systemic problems associated with the way formal and informal careers awareness and advice is addressed in schools. Further research and system-wide change is needed to ensure equitable and effective access to STEM careers awareness and advice in schools."

Associate Professor Jane Hunter, University of Technology Sydney (and member of AARE) adds that "Funded mentoring is required to help this initiative reach its goal."

"The 2020 STEM Equity Monitor reveals that only 10 per cent of women with a science, technology, engineering or mathematics higher education qualification continue to work in the field," notes Associate Professor Hunter.

"Therefore the 2021 budget allocation of $42.4 million for women to pursue STEM qualifications must include funded mentoring partnerships with female colleagues already employed in the STEM fields.

"Improving retention of women in the STEM workforce includes being taught by industry professionals in partnership with highly skilled science and mathematics teachers in the final years of schooling who cultivate problem solving skills and how to thrive in a world that is increasingly complex."

Associate Professor Jane Hunter is the author of High Possibility STEM Classrooms from the Centre for Research in Education in a Digital Society.