Girls And Science…

June 15, 2017

As the battle goes on to encourage more girls to study or work in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM), a recent study has identified a hidden enemy that girls are having to contend with.

Their own families.

Earlier this year, according to a report in the Sydney Morning Herald, Tabcorp commissioned Galaxy Research to do a national study of more than 1000 Australians aged 20 to 35 into the relationship between girls and maths and science.

It came up with some startling figures including 65 per cent of those interviewed saying their parents influenced their choice to study or work in science, technology, engineering or maths.

Only 31 per cent said their parents inspired them to go ahead into a STEM career.

The study found that in most cases, women working in STEM follow the footsteps of one or both parents who have worked in these fields, the SMH report said.

And about half the respondents working in STEM say someone tried to convince them not to pursue a career in STEM, including a relative other than their mother or father (15 per cent), a school careers counsellor/teacher (15 per cent) and a friend (14 per cent).

“I think that’s pretty scary,” said Kim Wenn, Tabcorp’s chief information officer and the only female ranked in Australia’s Top 10 CIOs.

She told SMH writer Nassim Khadem that STEM was facing an identity crisis.

In IT, just one in four graduates are women, and in engineering it’s just one in 10.

Ms Wenn, who wants to see more gender-diverse workforces and boards, said careers in the field were not being sold to women.

She said statistics showed more girls than boys were dropping maths in year ten.

“The concerning thing is that women think they’re not smart enough,” she said.

The study found the majority (60 per cent) of 20 to 35 year-olds list their perceived level of intelligence and lack of clarity around career pathways as the top two barriers to considering a career in STEM.

Women are more likely (46 per cent) than men (36 per cent) to say the barriers for them considering a career in STEM are that they are ‘not clever enough’ and that STEM’s ‘boy’s club’ image would make them feel uncomfortable (20 per cent compared to 6 per cent).

Then there’s the battle on pay.

The SMH article said that last year, the Office of the Chief Scientist released a report that found just 16 per cent of the 2.3 million STEM-qualified Australians are female and that there is a significant pay gap between men and women in the sector that cannot be explained by women taking time out to have babies.

“Corporates have an obligation to start educating… young girls about what the roles can be,” said Ms Wenn, who added that women now made up 39 per cent of Tabcorp’s senior leadership roles (executives to middle management).

The bid to move women into STEM and ensure equal pay isn’t easy.

“Progress is going to be very slow,” Ms Wenn said. “This is a 20-year problem.”

But there’s a need to pull women up the ranks, she said. That way, “people may have an auntie in tech and go talk to her. The network of influence starts to make a difference”.

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