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What’s the problem?
Girls have low STEM participation rates and low STEM aspirations in school compared with boys. This means that, as adults, women are less likely to work in STEM or study STEM after school:
- In 2017, the top 10 career aspirations for Australian girls aged 14-15 years included traditionally gendered roles in teaching, nursing and beauty. The boys’ top 10 list included engineering and transport, ICT and science professional. None of these featured on the girls’ list. The medical professions and design, planning and architecture appeared on both the boys’ list and the girls’ list.
- In 2014 women were awarded 32% of Australian STEM qualifications, compared with 68% for men.
- In 2011, the Australian STEM workforce comprised 72% men and 28% women.
Girls are influenced by:
- Negative stereotypes about STEM and gender. Traditional stereotypes about ‘male’ and ‘female’ careers influence students from a young age (for example, male doctors / female nurses). There is a connection between early attitudes about careers and later career and education decisions.
- Lack of female role models. Because there aren’t as many women working in STEM, it’s hard to find female role models. Role models help students develop positive attitudes about female STEM opportunities.
- Lower self-confidence and strong feelings of anxiety toward maths and science, despite having the same ability and achievement as boys. These beliefs have a strong influence on whether female students decide to stay in STEM subjects in school.
- Reliance on parents and / or local networks for career advice, which may be fragmented.
What strategies work?
Research suggests four strategies that can help encourage girls to participate in STEM:
- Co-ordinate effective messaging to help girls envision themselves as STEM professionals in meaningful jobs. For example, include positive messages about girls in STEM via school campaigns / posters, newsletters / events.
- Create opportunities for ‘girls-only’ learning. For example, activities beyond classroom time (recess / lunch / after school).
- Design techniques and tools to engage parents / families. For example, newsletters, parent information nights / events.
- Connect female STEM professionals with female students. For example, through partnerships or guest speakers.
Want to know more?
- The Australian Academy of Science Women in STEM Decadal Plan.
- Cracking the Code: Girls’ and womens’ education in STEM report. Section 3 describes interventions that help increase girls’ and women’s interest in, and engagement with, STEM education.
- Engaging the Future of STEM report. Page 49 features practical insights for implementing STEM programs for girls.
- Securing Australia’s Future: SAF02: International comparisons of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) report.
- The ABC of Gender Equality in Education: Aptitude, Behaviour, Confidence report. A compilation of data on gender differences in education.
Below are some examples of STEM education initiatives for girls:
- She Maps: An Australian initiative that uses drone-based activities to engage girls in technology. They run incursions and excursions, teacher professional development and sell drones to schools for educational use. .
- Girls’ Programming Network is a group of women and girls interested in computer science, programming and information technology. They run free workshops in Sydney where female high school students learn about computer science and make programming projects such as games or interactive websites.
Case study: University of New South Wales’ Women in Engineering Camp
Women in Engineering Camp was a residential program by the University of New South Wales that exposed young women entering Year 11 or 12 to the exciting careers available to professional engineers. The program aimed to address the underrepresentation of women in university enrolments and careers in engineering. The five-day camp was held annually in January. Students completed hands-on activities, workshops and designed challenges. They met successful female engineers and female engineering students. They got a taste of life on university campus and visited worksites around Sydney that showcased engineering in action. More than 100 young women from around the country attended the 2018 Women in Engineering Camp.