Tag Archives: girls in STEM

combining skills

Women in STEM: the revolution ahead

On September 8, 70 days after the end of the financial year, Australia marked equal pay day. The time gap is significant as it marks the average additional time it takes for women to work to get the same wages as men.

Optimistically, we’d think this day should slowly move back towards June 30. And there are many reasons for optimism, as our panel of thought leaders point out in our online roundtable of industry, research and government leaders.

Yet celebrating a lessening in inequity is a feel-good exercise we cannot afford to over-indulge in.

While we mark achievements towards improving pipelines to leadership roles, work to increase enrolments of girls in STEM subjects at schools and reverse discrimination at many levels of decision making and representation, the reality is that many of these issues are only just being recognised. Many more are in dire need of being addressed more aggressively.

Direct discrimination against women and girls is something I hear about from mentors, friends and colleagues. It is prevalent and wide-reaching. There is much more we can do to address issues of diversity across STEM areas.

Enrolments of women in STEM degrees vary from 16% in computer science and engineering to 45% in science and 56% in medicine. These figures reinforce that we are teaching the next generation with the vestiges of an education system developed largely by men and for boys. There is a unique opportunity to change this.

Interdisciplinary skills are key to innovation. Millennials today will change career paths more frequently; digital technologies will disrupt traditional career areas. By communicating that STEM skills are an essential foundation that can be combined with your interest, goals or another field, we can directly tap into the next generation. We can prepare them to be agile workers across careers, and bring to the table their skills in STEM along with experiences in business, corporates, art, law and other areas. In this utopian future, career breaks are opportunities to learn and to demonstrate skills in new areas. Part-time work isn’t seen as ‘leaning out’.

We have an opportunity to redefine education in STEM subjects, to improve employability for our graduates, to create stronger, clearer paths to leadership roles, and to redefine why and how we study STEM subjects right from early primary through to tertiary levels.

By combining STEM with X, we are opening up the field to the careers that haven’t been invented yet. As career areas shift, we have the opportunity to unleash a vast trained workforce skilled to adapt, to transition across fields, to work flexibly and remotely.

We need to push this STEM + X agenda right to early education, promoting the study of different fields together, and creating an early understanding of the different needs that different areas require.

This is what drives me to communicate science and STEM through publications such as Careers with Science, Engineering and Code. We want to convey that there are exciting career pathways through studying STEM. But we don’t know what those pathways are – that’s up to them.

Just think how many app developers there were ten year ago – how many UX designers. In 10 or even five years, we can’t predict what the rapidly growing career areas will be. But we can create a STEM aware section of the population and by doing so now, we can ensure that the next generation has an edge in creating and redefining the careers of the future.

Heather Catchpole

Founder and Managing Director, Refraction Media

Read next: CEO of Science and Technology Australia, Kylie Walker, smashes all of the stereotypes in her campaign to celebrate Women in STEM.

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 women combining skills in STEM 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.

STEM skills

Building STEM skills

There has been a lot of talk about the need to get more students studying STEM skills –science, technology, engineering and mathematics – to equip them for the jobs of tomorrow. For Australia to have the right mix of high value jobs and industries to maintain or improve our quality of life, we need more people with the digital and data-related skills that these jobs require.

A natural assumption would be that the reason we need to encourage students to study science and other STEM skills is to boost our research clout – the cohort of technically trained people within Australia’s university and publicly funded research laboratories. While of course Australia’s research capabilities are a pivotal element of our innovation ecosystem, this misses the point.

In my view, the areas where we desperately need more graduates with STEM skills include industry, government, politics and the entrepreneurial domain.

The ability to use complex data to make evidence-based decisions has never been more critical for decision-making – whether that be in the corporate boardroom, the executive suite, or the cabinet room. Most of the global challenges we face – from climate change to cyber crime – require a sophisticated understanding of STEM and basic STEM skills.

Technology offers solutions to many emerging problems. But experience from the nuclear debate to genetically modified crops tells us that when communities aren’t equipped with a good understanding of the scientific process and complexities behind these issues, it is extraordinarily difficult to secure the societal license required to introduce transformative technological solutions.

But the kicker is entrepreneurship – where young people have some of the best opportunities to harness rapidly emerging technological disruption to create high-value jobs. There is no question that many of these opportunities come from the STEM disciplines. We need to create opportunities where young people studying STEM skills are exposed to entrepreneurial ecosystems, have the chance to see first–hand what it takes and give it a go.


“We can’t afford to wait for more girls to select these traditionally male-dominated careers – we need to be proactive in creating pathways and incentives for girls to enter these fields.”


There are some STEM fields where we need to focus serious effort on getting more girls to engage. In particular, IT and engineering. Both areas are so critical to Australia’s future that we simply can’t afford to be building on half our talent base.

We can’t afford to wait for more girls to select these traditionally male-dominated careers. We need to be proactive in creating pathways and incentives for girls to enter these fields. We also need to provide much better systems and cultures to retain our capable women in STEM and research.

One simple thing we can do is profile and celebrate those female role models who are currently making an impact and are the top of their game in these STEM fields. The recently launched SAGE initiative will be pivotal in helping address the dire under-representation of women at the most senior levels in Australia’s universities and research organisations.

It’s worth noting that research, development, innovation and discovery are all about building from what’s already known. They’re about asking new questions and connecting existing knowledge. This is, at its heart, a creative process. We can’t forget that one of the critical elements in nurturing our most outstanding future engineers and scientists lies in supporting children to engage in the creative arts alongside STEM.

Tanya Monro

Deputy Vice Chancellor Research and Innovation, University of South Australia

Read next: Stephanie Borgman, People Program Specialist at Google Australia/NZ, on how internships offer mutual opportunities for students and businesses.

People and careers: Meet graduates and postgraduates who’ve paved brilliant, cross-disciplinary careers here, find further success stories here and explore your own career options at postgradfutures.com

Spread the word: Help to grow Australia’s graduate knowhow! Share this piece using the social media buttons below.

Be part of the conversation: Share your ideas on creating and propelling top Australian graduates. We’d love to hear from you!

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