Simone, my dear friend and mother of two, was explaining to me how she was going about choosing a school for her two daughters.
She grew up and now lives in Canberra. She went to one of the city’s most prestigious and exclusive private girls’ schools. 25 years ago, Simone would likely have just enrolled her daughters there so that they could follow in their mother’s footsteps.
But in 2016, Simone is carefully asking prospective schools one question.
What’s your plan for better education for girls in science, technology, engineering and maths?
In her latest Lenny Letter, a special science and engineering edition, Lena Dunham writes, “Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (fun and easy acronym: STEM!) are not worlds we associate with women, yet they are full of female pioneers…”
She’s right. There are plenty of women who are kicking serious goals in STEM.
Yassmin Abdel-Magied is a young and highly achieving mechanical engineer, Dr Elizabeth Blackburn is a biologist and a Nobel Laureate, Fiona Wood is a burns specialist and former Australian of the Year.
But men still dominate STEM, and girls don’t have or know about female STEM role models.
In 2012, research funded by Lockheed Martin and conducted by Girl Scouts US, showed that fewer than 60 per cent of girls have met a woman working in a STEM career, while closer to home, Professionals Australia, the peak body representing Engineers, says that in 2011 only 28 per cent of the STEM qualified workforce were women.
A further complicating factor for all kids in coming years is the decline in industries like manufacturing. There’s a reason Malcolm Turnbull, though questions remain about details and implementation, kicked off 2016 with a plan for innovation in Australia.
Simone is convinced that in Australia where there has been and will likely continue to be a huge decline in industries like manufacturing, and that her daughters and yours will probably work in jobs we can’t even image in industries that don’t even exist yet.