Women and girls in STEM: The next frontier in Australia’s push for full gender equality.

Video by MWN

In early November, the World Economic Forum announced a statistic that was hard to stomach: the gender gap widened for the first time in the last decade. A year ago the association claimed it would take 170 years to reach full gender parity, but now we’re up to 217 years.

While there are many prominent areas of gender inequality in Australia’s workforce, one specific area hit close to home for us. Women occupy only one quarter of the Australian STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Maths) workforce.

Girls in STEM
Getting girls interested in STEM is something that we need to be doing from a young age. Image: Getty.

In response to this statistic, this year we set out to learn more about what some of the leaders, both men and women, in the fields of finance, tech and fintech felt about the topic. What we found was a remarkable determination to reject the status quo and press for
progress.

“What's needed is an infallible commitment to the future we want to create,” argues Kendall Flutey, CEO at Banqer. “Those who can do something, need to do it – no action is too insignificant. Because it's the summation of our actions, big and small, that will bring
about the change that is so overdue."

Instilling confidence in generations to come.

“As a female founder, I can’t ignore the fact that there are so few of us,” states Shahirah Gardner, Founder of Finch. “I don’t think we’re doing enough to give women the confidence to join male dominated industries like finance and tech”.

It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy—the fewer examples of female leadership women can look up to, the less likely it becomes for them to aspire to senior positions themselves.

In a 2015 survey by KPMG, 69 per cent of respondents believed that having greater visibility of female representatives in leadership would inspire more confidence among young women to pursue similar roles in the future.

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But where do we start? Charlotte Petris, CEO at Timelio, believes in the power of showcasing women’s success to drive other women into rewarding careers. “Women learn from other women” says Charlotte, “sharing stories is so important to influence, inspire and
encourage other women that they can strive to make a difference!”

Building the conversation.

As pioneers of change, we need to carefully consider how we talk about the issue. Sanj Sanan, Partner Sales Manager at Spotcap, said: “We want to inspire women, not highlight how the odds of achievement are against them.”

Sarah Suckling, Client Services Manager at Spotcap, echoes this claim: “Together, we can create an image of female employment that can excite a new generation of women inspired by the success and power of females before them.”

Perspective can strongly influence something as subconscious as the vocabulary that we use in daily life. This can have an impact. As Siobhan Hayden, COO at HashChing states: “We need to stop thinking of ourselves as female brokers, fintechers or executives. We are
brokers. We are fintech professionals. We are executives.”

Normalising the language around women’s participation in leadership is a step toward a larger goal: positioning equality as a collective problem, instead of a female-led initiative. It takes the involvement of both women and men to build a fruitful discussion that leads to
understanding, collaboration and, by extension, results.

Is it any surprise that women still do the majority of the housework? last year the Australian Census told us that women still do the majority of the housework... seems like International Women's Day is a perfect time to bring back the discussion. Post continues after audio.

Promoting STEM careers to young women.

In Australia, only one in four IT graduates and fewer than one in 10 engineering graduates are women. This statistic highlights the root of our problem. A multitude of institutional, organisational and cultural factors are deterring young women from studying in STEM fields, creating an enormous female talent pool shortage in Australia.

To combat the issue, renowned Fintech consultant and mentor, Michelle Moffatt, emphasises the importance of exhibiting Australia’s successful women in STEM careers. “We need to continue to showcase and encourage the female role models currently in Australia’s
STEM space, to inspire a thriving future for female employment in Australia.”

As well as highlighting the career opportunity for women, we need to start from the bottom up in supporting this movement. This means starting with education at a young age.

“Education is a fundamental first step,” explains Lachlan Heussler, Managing Director of Spotcap. The Australian Federal Government has proven their commitment to increasing young people’s interest in STEM through actively incorporating more STEM subjects into the national school curriculum. As leaders in one of Australia’s fastest growing industries, we have a social responsibility to support young women in these initiatives through providing them with the equal employment and learning opportunities they deserve.

At Spotcap, we have respected this responsibility through our scholarship and internship programs, as part of an effort to equip young women with the tools, knowledge and opportunity they need to thrive in STEM careers.

Creating and supporting initiatives.

Hiring processes and policies are one half of the corporate puzzle. We need to look externally and utilise what is within our power that can boost interest in our respective fields as a whole.

In some cases, our businesses might not be designed to create similar initiatives of their own, but there are still many ways to participate. For instance, we at Spotcap proactively support two initiatives: “Girls in Tech”, a not-for-profit initiative working towards the engagement and empowerment of women in technology and “Women in Fintech”, an initiative launched to showcase women who are driving global success across the sector.

We still have a long way ahead of us. Driving the conversation, encouraging and mentoring the next generation and bringing our businesses closer to gender parity will take time. But as the leaders in our niche, it falls upon us to press for progress and be the role models that we never had.

To hear more of the amazing work Spotcap is doing to inspire and support more women in STEM careers this International Women's Day, make sure you visit their site.

Got a girl in your life who needs advice? We've got the show for you. Ask Me Anything is the short, sharp, car-trip podcast giving heartfelt answers to real-life anonymous questions from tween and teenage girls. Hosted by Bec Sparrow. Find all the episodes here:

Through Dress for Success’ Empower Hour campaign, it takes just a few minutes to change a woman's life forever. Donate an hour of your pay this International Women’s Day and set a woman on her path to success by visiting empowerhour.org.au

Mamamia has also partnered with Room to Read, where you can keep a girl in school for just $1 a day. Educating women and girls is widely understood to be the most powerful and effective way to address global poverty.

You can help make the world a better place for women and girls by donating at www.roomtoread.org/mamamia

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