Tag Archives: Australia’s STEM Workforce

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.

corporate culture

Smashing the glass ceiling

“Science Meets Business” – this is a beautiful thing. It does not get better than that for me, having trained as a scientist and worked for more than 30 years in business, including the past 27 years with Dow, one of the world’s leading science and technology companies.  At Dow we are proud of our mission to combine chemistry, physics and biology to create what is essential for human progress. As our ever growing population faces pressing challenges, we believe that innovation will be the key to addressing the needs of the future.

Implicit in this vision is that graduates in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) are readily available to drive innovation and progress humanity and, just as importantly, that the graduate pool reflects the diversity of our society in all its dimensions.

Over recent years, there has been an increasing recognition of the imbalance of women in STEM.  This has culminated in an impressive $13 million of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) funding being earmarked to support women in STEM careers including support for SAGE, Australia’s Science and Gender Equity initiative to promote gender equity in STEM.

Changing corporate culture

There is a real need for this concerted effort to address gender inequity. According to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, women make up only 16% of Australia’s STEM Workforce.

The good news is that in recent years, a lot has been done to address the gender inequality issues.  We have a strong combination of social awareness, government policy and financial investment, corporate and business buy-in and social consciousness of the issue.

I have recently met a number of female board directors who have openly acknowledged that their appointment is due to the Victorian governments spilling of agency boards and establishing a 50% gender quota requirement. This is one example of real and substantial change.

Across the globe, Dow has over 1,600 employee volunteers, known as STEM Ambassadors, who are helping to bring STEM subjects to life in the classroom, and serving as role models of a diverse STEM workforce.

In partnership with the Women in Business Summit hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ), Dow has also taken a leadership role to improve STEM career development opportunities for women.  We are progressing slowly, but steadily, with women constituting nearly 60% of new Australian and New Zealand hires at Dow in 2016.

With the $13 million NISA investment and the changing corporate culture, now is the perfect opportunity for young women to seek and develop a career in STEM.

Innovation in general will be the driving force of commercial success, economic growth and national development. A large part of this will come from R&D and innovation in STEM fields.

If the majority of future jobs are yet to be imagined, then women in particular are in a perfect position to seize the opportunity of creating these positions.

The management glass ceiling might exist today, but if the jobs are yet to be invented, then then we have a chance of shattering that ceiling in the future.

Tony Frencham

Managing Director & Regional President, Australia and New Zealand, Dow Chemical Company

Read next: CEO of AECOM Australia and New Zealand Lara Poloni explains why it’s important for women to stay connected with the workplace during a career break.

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 corporate culture 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.

science graduates

Science graduates high risk or high reward?

The employment prospects of science graduates are called into question by a report published by the Grattan Institute.

Studying science will get you a job – just not the job you might expect.

Industry and high placed academics have decried the results of a report declaring science to be a ‘high risk’ degree.

Such results fail to represent career prospects for those working outside of traditional science roles, say a cohort of Australia’s leading science experts.

Last week the respected Grattan Institute think tank’s Mapping Higher Education report warned that science was a ‘high risk’ study choice and that many recent science and information technology graduates are failing to find full-time work.

It’s not wrong, but it is near-sighted, say university and industry experts.

The report, released last week, concludes that a bachelor science degree is “high risk for finding a job” with “poor employment outcomes”, warning 51% of science graduates looking for full-time work in 2015 had found it four months after completing their course, 17 percentage points lower than the national average.

There has been a 20-year decline in participation in science at college.

But thinking of science as a one-track path to the lab fails to take into account the broader benefits of a science degree, says Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, Greg Hunt.

Professor Les Field, Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor of UNSW Australia and Secretary for Science Policy at the Australian Academy of Science, says STEM-based education gives students a “versatile, flexible, problem-solving, technology-literate grounding, which is what you need for life and employment in the modern world”.

Science graduates have higher rates of employment

The Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM workforce, shows that over the medium term, people with STEM qualifications have higher rates of employment than graduates from other disciplines, Field points out.

“A survey of 466 employers across various sectors [STEM Skills in the workforce: What do employers want? March, 2015] have also shown that many employers expect to employ many more STEM graduates over the next five to 10 years, and around a quarter are already struggling to recruit people with appropriate STEM qualifications,” says Field.

“There is some mismatch between employer requirements of STEM graduates and the skills and experience with which they are coming out of universities. We should advocate that more industry placements and internships form a stronger part of university education.”

“Not a lot of opportunities”

Zara Barger, a first-year biomedical engineering student at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) admits that she is “a little worried” about her prospects. “In Australia it seems as though there is not a lot of opportunities. As part of my degree I have to do two 6-month internships and I think that will give me insight and connections.”

Alecia Newton, a UTS Bachelor of Science student, agrees. “I’m a little bit concerned. I’m planning on getting some experience by volunteering so fingers crossed that will get me a job. But science is a good starting ground – it will give me good knowledge and if it doesn’t work out I will do a Masters in high school teaching,” she says.

Grattan report “surprising”

“It’s surprising to see the Grattan Institute’s claims that are contrary to other reports both here and overseas,” says Jackie Randles, state manager for Inspiring Australia, the Federal Government’s national strategy for engaging communities in STEM.

“The World Economic Forum estimates that 65% of children entering primary school today will ultimately end up working in completely new job types that don’t yet exist. By 2020, more than a third of the core skill sets of most occupations will be those that are not yet considered crucial today and likely to involve STEM,” says Randles.

“Closer to home, Australia’s STEM skills shortage continues to be a major risk to our economy with business joining government and academics in calls to redress a worrying skills gap.”

Graham Durant, Director of Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre, says graduates with a “good science degree and a balanced portfolio of skills, knowledge and abilities will continue to have good employment prospects but not necessarily as academic researchers.

“The STEM disciplines, including art and design provide very good training for the world of work but degrees should not be regarded as vocational training. A good background in STEM disciplines opens up many opportunities in careers that may not necessarily be regarded as STEM careers.”

Professor Merlin Crossley, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Education at UNSW and former Dean of Science agrees that the longer term prospects for science graduates are excellent.

“With slightly more people studying science, obviously slightly fewer people will get jobs at once. Science still provides opportunities – all doors remain open to science graduates.”

Heather Catchpole

gender

How to balance gender in STEM

Sobering statistics on gender disparity were released by the Office of the Chief Scientist in early 2016 as part of a report on STEM-based employment. These followed the federal government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) announcement of a $13 million investment to encourage women to choose and stick with STEM careers. So, what are the issues for men and women entering STEM graduate pathways today and how can you change the game?

The rate of increase in female STEM-qualified graduates is outstripping that of males by 6 per cent. Overall, however, women make up just 16% of STEM-qualified people, according to the Chief Scientist’s March 2016 report, Australia’s STEM Workforce.

Recognising that more needs to be done, a cohort of exceptional female and male leaders in academia and industry is developing two strategic approaches that will receive the bulk of the new NISA funding. These are the industry-led Male Champions of Change initiative, and the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot, run the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.

SAGE was founded by Professors Nalini Joshi and Brian Schmidt (a Nobel laureate) with a view to creating an Australian pilot of UK program the Athena SWAN Charter. Established in 2005, Athena SWAN was described by the British House of Commons as the “most comprehensive and practical scheme to improve academics’ careers by addressing gender inequity”.

Since September 2015, 32 organisations have signed up for Australia’s SAGE pilot, which takes a data analysis approach to affect change. Organisations gather information such as the number of women and men hired, trained and promoted across various employment categories. They then analyse these figures to uncover any underlying gender inequality issues, explains Dr Susan Pond, a SAGE program leader and adjunct professor in engineering and information technologies at the University of Sydney. Finally, participating organisations develop a sustainable four-year action plan to resolve the diversity issues that emerge from the analyses.

Women occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and institutes, and there are almost three times as many male than female STEM graduates in the highest income bracket ($104K and above). The Australia’s STEM Workforce report found this wealth gap is not accounted for by the percentage of women with children, or by the higher proportion of females working part-time.

There are, however, some opportunities revealed by the report. While only 13% of engineering graduates are female, 35% of employees with engineering degrees are female, so a larger proportion of women engineers are finding jobs. Across all sectors, however, employment prospects for STEM-qualified women are worse than for non-STEM qualified women – a situation that’s reversed for men.

Part of the problem is that graduates view academic careers as the only outcome of a STEM degree – they aren’t being exposed to careers in industry and the corporate sector, says Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea, a senior research leader at the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute and co-founder of Women in Science Australia.

“There are so many compounding issues in the academic environment: it’s hypercompetitive, you have to be an elite athlete throughout your entire career,” she says. “This impacts women more because they are often the primary caregivers.”

An increased focus on diversity in STEM skills taught at schools, however, is changing the way women relate to careers in the field, Marguerite says.

“There are opportunities for women because, with diversified training, we can realise there is a broad spectrum of careers. A PhD is an opportunity to hone your skills towards these careers.”

In the workforce, more flexible work arrangements and greater technical connectivity are improving conditions for women at the early-career level but, as Marguerite points out, there is still a bottleneck at the top.

“I’m still justifying my career breaks to this day,” she says. “It’s something that travels throughout your entire career – and this needs to change.”

Part of the issue is the way we measure success, as well as gender disparity, on career and grant application review panels – and this won’t change overnight.

“How we define merit may be different if there are more women in the room,” Marguerite adds. “There will be a more diverse range of ideas. Collaborations and engagement with the public may be valued more, as well as your ability to be an advocate and be a role model to other women in STEM. Paired with essential high-quality research, it could provide a broader lens.”

-Heather Catchpole

This article was first published on Postgraduate Futures on 29 May 2016. Read the original article here.

STEM workforce

Australia’s STEM workforce

Featured image above from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report

Australians with qualifications in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) are working across the economy in many roles from wine-makers to financial analysts, according to a new report from The Office of the Chief Scientist.

Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Alan Finkel says Australia’s STEM Workforce is the first comprehensive analysis of the STEM-qualified population and is a valuable resource for students, parents, teachers and policy makers. The report is based on data from the 2011 Census, the most recent comprehensive and detailed data set of this type of information. The report will serve as a benchmark for future studies.

“This report provides a wealth of information on where STEM qualifications – from both the university and the vocational education and training (VET) sectors – may take you, what jobs you may have and what salary you may earn,” Finkel says.

“Studying STEM opens up countless job options and this report shows that Australians are taking diverse career paths.”

The report investigates the workforce destinations of people with qualifications in STEM fields, looking at the demographics, industries, occupations and salaries that students studying for those qualifications can expect in the workforce.

STEM workforce
Click here to see an infographic of key facts from the Australia’s STEM Workforce Report

The report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates. Biological sciences and environmental studies graduates were evenly split between the genders. In the vocational education and training (VET) sector, only 9% of those with STEM qualifications were women.

Finkel says that even more worrying than the gender imbalance in some STEM fields, is the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields revealed in the report. These differences cannot be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.

The analysis also found that gaining a doctorate is a sound investment, with more STEM PhD graduates in the top income bracket than their Bachelor-qualified counterparts. However, these same STEM PhD holders are less likely to own their own business or work in the private sector.

Finkel says that preparing students for a variety of jobs and industries is vital to sustaining the future workforce.

“This report shows that STEM-qualified Australians are working across the economy. It is critical that qualifications at all levels prepare students for the breadth of roles and industries they might pursue.”

Click here to download the full Australia’s STEM Workforce report.

Click here to read Alan Finkel’s Foreword, or click here to read the section of the report that interests you.

This information was first shared by Australia’s Chief Scientist on 31 Mar 2016. Read the original media release here