The approach to achieving gender balance in Australian workplaces is in need of a rebrand.
This is particularly true in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries, where despite an ongoing conversation in media, business and government, recent studies show women still significantly trail men in full-time employment.
A major 2011 study found 72 per cent of STEM jobs were held by men and anecdotal evidence suggests this gap remains. This is due to misperceptions about careers in STEM and a concerning and misplaced lack of confidence among girls in their own ability. A recent study undertaken by Galaxy Research on behalf of Tabcorp revealed that almost half (46 per cent) of young women considered themselves ‘not clever enough’ to study or work in the field. This is, quite simply, not good enough.
STEM is crucial to the nation’s innovative capacity and global competitiveness, yet women are vastly underrepresented, particularly in disciplines such as mathematics and technology. The evidence is clear – we need to do more to encourage women to pursue careers in STEM, and dispel the stigmas, perceptions, and stereotypes that still persist.
I would like to see the Australian business community demonstrate the value that a career in STEM creates for young women. The sure-fire way to boost confidence and participation is to illustrate to young people how they can get into STEM, and more importantly why they should. Yet, I believe it’s a 20-year challenge, and to get there we must consider the perception of STEM among young adults, and foster confidence in women to engage in STEM.
Close the gap with a rebrand
The study revealed that one in five women say that STEM’s ‘boys club’ image has discouraged them from considering a career in the field, and they express concerns about feeling uncomfortable in the workplace and doubts over their chances to progress. This stereotypical misrepresentation of STEM careers infiltrates the minds of young women and men from high school to the boardroom, despite strong efforts from teachers and organisations to do all the right things to be diverse, open and flexible.
The key to encouraging greater participation sits with the people already working in STEM who can identify career pathways for women considering a future in the field. Leaders in the field must work together to spell out what a career in STEM looks like, and promote the opportunities it offers young Australians.
The role that business and educators play in providing mentors that inspire and motivate is critical to maintaining growth and success in Australian businesses through attracting and retaining the right talent.
Being creative and having new ideas is just as important in engineering and maths as it is in the arts, marketing and entertainment industries – so how can we ensure that our young women understand this and have role models they can learn from and be inspired by?
Inspiring tomorrow’s STEM leaders today
I have found that having a young daughter creates a natural desire in me to provide an awareness and openness towards her to pursuing any path that she wants to take, while giving her the tools to get there – that’s my role as a parent.
To me, being a role model in business is quite similar in that it can be about inspiring and nurturing, and providing tools and knowledge for someone looking to take their first steps into study or work.
The problem in STEM is that there are few role models for young females. The main aim for us in Australia is to achieve gender equality and a more diverse workforce in STEM, to do that we have to bridge the knowledge gap of what STEM is and what it can be for women. We must continue to encourage our girls to study STEM subjects and work in all the relevant industries that are reliant on those skills.
The women who are already working in STEM successfully, who are authentic and who can share their values, can inspire those who are considering entering the field. This way, we don’t lose incredible potential talent to the ‘I’m not clever enough’ misperception or the preconceived notion that being in the STEM industry will be too hard to balance with family responsibilities in the future.
Tabcorp is a leading Australian gambling entertainment business and an ASX100 company. Diversified across three businesses: Wagering and Media, Gaming Services and Keno, Tabcorp operates market-leading, innovative brands such as tab.com.au, Keno, Luxbet, Sky Racing, Sky Sports Radio and Tabcorp Gaming Solutions, employing more than 3,000 people.