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maths skills

From maths to Microsoft

When girls start school they are just as interested in maths and science as boys. Yet only one quarter of Australia’s STEM workforce are women. What happens along the way? Why don’t more girls opt for a career that involves science, technology, engineering or maths skills?

I was always encouraged by my family to take on any subject at school, which led to my love of numbers. I think maths has a bit of a reputation for being boring – something that’s only useful if you’re planning to become an academic or actuary. But it’s so much more.

From architecture and film animation to photography and my world of software and business management, maths skills open up a whole world of opportunities. I know my career with Microsoft was fuelled by the problem-solving skills that studying maths helped me develop.

Opening up careers for women in STEM is something I am passionate about. I have seen that professional success in many of the ‘non-traditional’ female roles requires reasonable mathematical ability.

But more than a quarter of girls in Australia do not study maths after Year 10. Girls are also underrepresented in most science classes. Without this preliminary education, it’s not surprising girls are steering clear of STEM courses at university as well.


“Programs like DigiGirlz give girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with women who have STEM-based jobs and participate in fun, hands-on workshops.”


Not only my daughters’, but most of our kids’ working lives, are going to depend on STEM skills. Already 75% of the fastest growing industries in Australia require knowledge in these areas. If we want girls to take their place in the technologically driven world of tomorrow, we need to make some changes. We need to encourage young girls to continue to explore STEM subjects.

At Microsoft, we’re creating spaces where young women and technology can come together. Programs like DigiGirlz give girls the opportunity to learn about careers in technology, connect with women who have STEM-based jobs and participate in fun, hands-on workshops.

We also need to talk about creativity when we talk about STEM. Behind the best technologies are not only amazing ideas but also creative thinking, yet this magic ingredient is often overlooked.

One way forward is to teach young girls STEM skills that reward their curiosity and creativity by helping them bring their ideas to life. For example, teachers are now helping kids learn coding by playing Minecraft, a computer game that’s popular with both boys and girls, and allows them to create whole worlds only limited by their imagination.

If we want more women to enter careers in STEM, we need to encourage them from day one. Challenging deeply entrenched stereotypes about what girls can and can’t do isn’t going to be easy – but it will be vital for Australia’s future prosperity.

I believe that girls can achieve anything – it’s time they did too.

Pip Marlow

Managing Director, Microsoft Australia

Read next: President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Andrew Holmes AM, describes the evolution of culture and structures that underpin STEM and favour men.

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 the value of maths skills 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.

industry-school partnerships

Industry engagement must start at school

Robotics, artificial intelligence, advanced materials and biotechnology will impact business models from 2018 and employment in engineering, architecture, IT and maths is on the rise. Currently women are significantly underrepresented in these jobs. 

Schools have a major role in promoting female participation in the STEM workforce. The challenge for schools and educators is to help female students understand this new environment and evolve the skills and resilience to operate in the future STEM landscape.

So how can we support female students to pursue STEM careers?

Provide opportunities

A major challenge for schools exists around resourcing and updating teacher knowledge. The Victorian Department of Education established six specialist science and mathematics centres to help schools inspire students in STEM through student programs and teacher professional learning.

These specialist centres collaborate with research institutes and industry to showcase Victorian innovation and entrepreneurial pursuits in STEM. Providing access to research-grade technologies and expertise immerses teachers and students in contemporary science investigations.  It helps girls visualise new STEM pathways and ignites their interest in pursuing studies in science.


“Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom.”


Enhance motivation

What motivates a female student to engage with STEM? At the very core our answer should include interest and relevance. Relevance showcases how skills and knowledge apply to the world around us. Interest is maintained when students understand and can actively use new skills and knowledge to analyse results, solve problems and discuss issues.

A student will quickly disengage if they do not experience success. A series of sequenced challenges designed to activate thinking and the linking of ideas to create new knowledge supports students to take risks and develop and test theories.

Promote dialogue and skills of negotiation

Girls enjoy learning as a social and collaborative exercise. In this way they can hold meaningful discourse as they interrogate ideas. Providing learning spaces that promote social interaction around artefacts provides a non-threatening method of testing ideas and refining knowledge.

Raise aspirations

Industries want to increase female participation in the workforce as this promotes diversity and has been shown to improve outcomes. Cited barriers to hiring and promoting women include unconscious bias in managers and women’s low confidence and aspirations.

industry-school partnerships
Credit: Future of Jobs Report, World Economic Forum

We all harbour learned stereotypes that are encultured in us and affect decisions. Meeting and collaborating with early and established female career scientists has a positive impact on women’s aspirations. It helps to break down misconceptions surrounding the role of scientists by highlighting the convergence of STEM where collaboration – rather than competition – is key.

Industry and research institutions can play a pivotal role in supporting schools to bridge the divide between STEM in practice, and STEM in the classroom. By partnering with schools to develop meaningful and relevant learning experiences for students, enriched by access to facilities, resources, technologies and expertise, students realise how exciting and diverse a career in STEM can be.

By communicating the need for gender diversity and nurturing STEM skills that will be most valued in the workforce, we can help raise female aspirations as they reflect on subject choice in their senior years.

Jacinta Duncan

Director, Gene Technology Access Centre

Read next: Captain Mona Shindy describes her journey as a pioneer in the Royal Australian Navy.

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 industry-school partnerships 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.