11 February 2020
Throughout history, the field of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) have long played an integral part in helping people understand how the world works and what we can do to improve it. At YWCA Canberra, we especially recognise the importance of women and the roles they play in STEM, along with the discoveries they have contributed to society. With new pathways being made every day by brilliant, bright females, it is only fair we commemorate their success by joining in the celebration of the International Day of Girls and Women in Science.
From American physician, Elizabeth Blackwell, the first woman to obtain a medical degree, to Indigenous Australian, Karlie Noon, the first Aboriginal women in NSW to attain a double degree in math and science, we can all agree that women have continuously proven their strength in STEM no matter their background or gender.
But while it is extremely important to acknowledge the efforts and contributions of women in STEM, it is equally important to recognise the obstacles that most, if not all, women face within these male-dominated sectors. Although science and gender equality are both vital for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goal, there is still much progress to be made.
In fact, according to research conducted by UNESCO in 2016, data found that approximately 30 per cent of all female students internationally select STEM-related fields in higher education.
In Australia alone, statistics reveal that only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. While these numbers paint a clear image of the gender discrepancies in these fields, further data suggests that women ultimately make up only 27 per cent of the STEM workforce in Australia.
Among those who do eventually make it on to work in STEM industries, many will experience issues in relation to gender pay gaps, discrimination, segregation, cultural stereotypes, and obstacles that may hinder their ability to progress onto leadership roles.
According to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), women and men face a 22.6 per cent pay gap in professional, scientific and technical industries.
This pay gap is further stretched by the fact that only 12 per cent of women in STEM fall into the top income bracket (above $104,000), compared to their male counterparts who hold a staggering 32 per cent.
In addition to the issues of pay equity, lack of representation also plays a prominent role in how young women perceive and ultimately choose to pursue a career in STEM. While there is a general lack of coverage on females in the media already, the visibility of female scientists in the public eye is even lower. Without representation, young women are deprived of inspiring role models to look up to, consequently demotivating them from pursuing subjects in STEM throughout their schooling.
Despite all the hardships women face in STEM (and there are a lot), there is no denying the value all women hold in their respective fields. At YWCA Canberra, we emphasise the importance of female representation and are continuously advocating for the rights of women until they receive their well-earned and rightly deserved recognition (and pay wage).
To demonstrate this, we have introduced several initiatives to help encourage young women to take control of their future and embrace their passion for STEM. These have included the Youth Clubhouse in Tuggeranong and the establishment of the Great Ydeas Program.
Most recently, we have set up a fundraiser to help two young women from our Clubhouse, Ella and Emily, to attend this year’s Teen Network Summit in Boston, USA. The Summit, which will be held in July, invites members from 100 Clubhouses internationally to participate in a week long youth leadership event and engage with like-minded teens interested in STEM.
At the event, Ella and Emily will have the chance to explore issues relevant to them and propose solutions through the creative use of innovative, high-end technologies. It is because of opportunities like the Teen Summit, that young women are encouraged to feel inspired and confident enough to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering, arts, and math.
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