The report, Girls’ Future – Our Future, on why many girls do not pursue study and careers in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), has recommended a range of initiatives and programs to encourage girls’ participation in these subjects and to better equip them to pursue careers in what are the fastest growing occupations in Australia.
The report was funded by the Invergowrie Foundation and completed by researchers at the University of Melbourne and Deakin University.
The research was commissioned after the Foundation identified STEM education as a priority area of focus aligning with its mission to advance the education of women and girls in Victoria.
An estimated 75% of the fastest growing occupations, including those in the creative industries and humanities, require STEM-related skills. The failure to address and reverse the decline in the number of girls taking STEM subjects and the consequent under representation of women in STEM careers will lead to further erosion of women’s economic empowerment.
The report notes that children as young as six associate science with males. Entrenched gender biases have a strong impact on girls’ perception of STEM subjects, which in turn affects their engagement and participation in these crucial components of a child’s education.
One of the report’s authors, Professor Jan van Driel from the University of Melbourne, says parents, carers, teachers and career advisors should learn to avoid stereotyping girls’ interests and abilities in STEM skills and knowledge.
The report recommends focusing on early years and primary education to address unconscious biases and teachers’ ability to teach STEM to all students, as well as quality career advice about the diversity of STEM-based career possibilities.
Another of the report’s authors, Associate Professor Linda Hobbs from Deakin University, stresses the importance of providing genuine opportunities for girls to engage with STEM professionals through project work, mentoring or industry placement.
“If they are able to interact with and relate to people already in the field, they are able to see their own career possibilities,” says Hobbs.
But given there are several factors that contribute to girls under participation in STEM, there is no quick fix to this complex problem.
In fact, many of the initiatives discussed in the report have been recommended and even implemented over the past few decades but none were broad enough in scope or sustained over a sufficient period to overcome systemic constraints and deeply rooted cultural presumptions and practices.
The report calls for a coordinated and sustained approach to increase girls’ participation in STEM, and recommends a road map to achieve gender balance.
Chair of the Invergowrie Foundation, Wendy Lewis, says the report will contribute significantly to advancing girls’ education in Victoria.
“If girls and women are not encouraged to engage with STEM they will be at greater risk of becoming excluded from a substantial part of the workforce of the future.”
The Invergowrie Foundation, established in 1992, is a public charitable trust made possible through the McPherson Family gift of 1933. The primary focus of the Foundation is to advance the education of girls and women within Victoria.
Girls’ Future – Our Future is available on the Invergowrie Foundation’s website.