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Outcome: Girls and women see STEM education and careers as viable and interesting paths and understand the opportunities of STEM for their futures.

Why focus on visibility?

As a nation we are all responsible for shaping the society in which we live. We must work together to change attitudes, beliefs, behaviours and perceptions to ensure that all Australians have the opportunity for rewarding, high income jobs in workplaces that value the talent and skills of their people, regardless of gender or background.

At the heart of this is ensuring women in STEM, from a diversity of backgrounds, are visible and that STEM studies and careers are seen across our society as a positive and relevant choice for all young women in Australia. Recent research by Professionals Australia showed that a majority of Australian women in STEM professions reported that a lack of role models and women in senior positions presented an obstacle to career advancement.[56] Increasing visibility of positive female role models in STEM, whether on the screen, in the classroom or at work, will help girls and women to see STEM as a viable and attractive career option.

Creating an Australian culture that supports the participation of all in STEM will help to counter the prevalent view that scientists are only ‘white haired men in lab coats’ and will help all Australians understand the range and nature of STEM careers – from astronomers studying the furthest stars, those working in laboratories to develop future vaccines, the engineers collaborating on the production of bionic limbs, to the forensic scientists helping to solve crimes.

Facilitating a greater visibility of the opportunities in STEM, the amazing women already working across the sector and creating strong role models will help to address the bias and stereotyping that currently exists in our system. The Government is committed to driving this cultural change, in partnership with the broader STEM community, to support greater participation in STEM.

Actions

In October 2018, the Government announced that award-winning astrophysicist, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, would take up the role as Australia’s inaugural Women in STEM Ambassador. The Women in STEM Ambassador is charged with advocating for greater gender equity in STEM, providing advice on issues affecting girls and women in STEM, and increasing visibility of girls and women in STEM education and careers. The Ambassador will play a large role in helping to shape an Australian culture that recognises the need to encourage girls and women into STEM.

From 2019, the Government will work with the Ambassador on a digital awareness raising initiative to reach young Australian women on the importance of STEM to their future. The Government is committing $1.5 million to the initiative from 2019-20 to 2021-22, to change the broad public perception of women in STEM by reducing stereotypes and gender bias around STEM education and careers, and will look to engage other players in the STEM sector in support of the initiative.

Complementing the Ambassador’s role, Science & Technology Australia’s (STA) Superstars of STEM initiative, originally supported under the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE)grants program, is inspiring girls and women in schools, universities and workplaces around the country through increasing visibility of women working in STEM. The first cohort of Superstars reached more than 7800 high school students, and 70 per cent of the Superstars reported new opportunities for career progression as a result of the program. In March 2018, the Government announced it would provide an additional $1.3 million funding for a second phase of Superstars of STEM, which has doubled the number of women participating in each cohort to 60 participants and extended the program for an additional four years. The 2019 cohort includes women from Australian universities, research institutes, government and PFRAs.

Other Government initiatives such as those delivered by Questacon or the CSIRO’s STEM Professionals in Schools, are actively showcasing women STEM professionals in order to demonstrate the diversity in STEM roles and the people who work within them.

Case studies

  • Superstar scientists: Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM program is helping to raise the profile of the nation’s female scientists to inspire the next generation.
  • A champion for STEM equity: Australia’s first Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, is at the forefront of the Government’s efforts to increase visibility and encourage girls and women to study and work in STEM.

 

Footnote

  • [56] Professionals Australia Gender and Diversity, All Talk: Gap between policy and practice a key obstacle to gender equity in STEM.