What can STEM learn from sport?

September 13, 2016

Deloitte Partner Elissa Hilliard explains why raising Australia’s STEM IQ means teaching girls foundational skills in their formative school years.

STEM talent

Australia is a passionate nation.

The recent Olympics triggered my thinking on how passionate we are about winning. I remember a time when Australia was unable to compete against the world class American, Russian and German teams.  Our nation reacted by establishing the government funded Australian Institute of Sport in Canberra (AIS). The AIS acknowledges they are responsible and accountable for Australia’s international sporting success. Australia’s top sporting talent is selected, nurtured, and trained for the purpose of competing against the world’s best. Their success is celebrated, and the cycle continues.

Growing the number of STEM experts in our workforce is no different. If Australia wants to be recognised as a world-class STEM nation, commitment to developing our talent through established strategic programs funded by sustainable investment is essential.

When measuring STEM talent, our focus is on numbers that come out of university. However, consider our athletes for a moment. They have already been training for the better part of a decade.  They don’t arrive at the institute ready to be trained. Junior athletics, swimming squads and after-school sport training are part of most schools and parents’ agenda to develop their children’s skills from a very young age.  If the success of sport is to be replicated for STEM disciplines, then school years should not be overlooked.

Creating a foundation for young women

Traditional education should always be respected and never replaced, however there is always room for flexibility and balance. My own career in IT was shaped by the foundations provided to me by my high school environment. The all-girls school I attended offered Computing Studies as a subject for the Higher School Certificate.  It was only the second year it was offered and approximately 20 students signed up.  It was here, along with my home environment of a tech-savvy family, where I developed foundations in IT.

I pursued a tertiary education in commerce as I initially had no interest in computer science. Nevertheless, my first significant role was working as a computer engineer in IT – a job I landed based on the foundational skills I had acquired through my high school studies. I had found a position where I was able to solve problems while continuing to learn and gain additional certifications. I was the only female in a team of 12, but I didn’t focus on the gender inequality at the time.

Developing Australia’s STEM talent

Innovation requires novel thinking and raising Australia’s STEM IQ to world-class requires a considered and committed long term strategy, including initiatives for supporting women in STEM.

I work for Deloitte in the technology industry alongside women who have studied econometrics, law, accounting, engineering and arts. Deloitte recognises the importance of driving Australia’s STEM agenda and (amongst other initiatives) have selected two female directors from cybersecurity and technology consulting to share their expertise and experiences with young Australian women through an online mentoring platform, Day of STEM.

Our aim is to inspire Australia’s future STEM generation and highlight the real-life opportunities available in professional services firms like Deloitte.

Elissa Hilliard

Partner, Risk Advisory, Deloitte Australia

Read next: Chair of ATSE’s Gender Equity Working Group, Dr Mark Toner, compares the national need for women in STEM with the barriers faced by women on a personal level.

People and careers: Meet women who’ve paved brilliant careers in STEM here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com.

Spread the word: Help Australian women achieve successful careers in STEM! Share this piece on STEM talent using the social media buttons below.

More Thought Leaders: Click here to go back to the Thought Leadership Series homepage, or start reading the Graduate Futures Thought Leadership Series here.

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One thought on “Open your mind”

  1. Fabulous program – might be a completely socialist structural one that annoys the market fundamentalism of capitalists but nonetheless a vital assistance to stave off Australia’s decline into third world status as we shut down our industries because they are noncompetitive operating as first world businesses! Keep the good work!

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