The STEM gender gap and how we can lead the way for the next generation

Authored by Emma Girvan and Sandra Raznjevic

In our continued partnership with St. Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School, we were honoured to be invited to attend the inaugural Women in STEM Breakfast on Thursday 23 May, which was hosted by Year 10-12 students.

This fantastic event included over 30 female industry professionals who were invited as mentors.  They were only too happy to share their own personal journeys and experiences as successful women working in STEM related fields. We were all lucky enough to hear from 3 invited guest speakers;  Sarah Brown (State Director, Code Like A Girl), Dr Kristin Alford (Director, MOD) and Dr Bronwyn Hajek (Lecturer/Researcher, University of South Australia) which was incredibly inspiring for all of us to hear how they’ve been able to navigate their respective careers.

We heard accounts of how women are still so dramatically underrepresented across all STEM studies and careers and as mentors for these young, impressionable and highly motivated students, we all felt a sense of responsibility to share and encourage them on their paths to success.

Whilst enjoying some of the culinary delights prepared by some of the Food Technology students (which they were being assessed on!), the girls had the opportunity to practice their networking skills and gain as many insights as they could from the industry mentors around the table. It was fascinating to hear the diversity of each of the girls’ passions and interests and what their career aspirations were. Amongst the girls, we met a budding  Commonwealth Games Australian Archer (maybe Olympian one day if they change the rules), a software developer, a forensic scientist, a designer, and organ transplant surgeon and some professions which…to be honest we’d never heard of!  For us, it was a great opportunity to dispel some of the misconceptions of what a career in IT looks like and how some of their interests and skills could be applied in the least likely of ways.

Studies also indicate that role models can be used to both attract and retain women in STEM. Using women as role models has been found to be more effective in retaining women in STEM[2]. With research indicating fewer than one in five students enrolled in degrees in engineering, physics, mathematical sciences or information and communications technology (ICT) in Australia are women[1], and at a time when technology continues to transform the way we live, work and learn, the need to close the STEM gender gap is more critical than ever.

Women are lost at every stage of the professional ladder in STEM fields, due to a range of factors including stereotypes, discrimination, and workplace culture and structure[1], some of which manifest from early school years. [

Studies also indicate that role models can be used to both attract and retain women in STEM. Using women as role models has been found to be more effective in retaining women in STEM[2].

At Exposé, we can proudly boast that 40% of our staff are women; many of us with young daughters, including our own General Manager. We are very passionate about continuing our partnerships with the colleges and universities in Adelaide particularly, working with young women to provide mentorship and guidance to help steer them on a path which traditionally has seen girls gradually drop off the radar.  So much so, that we will be working with St. Peter’s Collegiate Girls’ School again this year to provide our special data analytics project which encourages young women to think beyond the “nerdy” coding and help desk stigma associated with the IT industry.

After listening to the panel of speakers and chatting to a number of young girls who were keen to pick our brains on ‘a day in the life of a girl working in STEM’, the message at the end of the morning was clear – find something you love doing, then find a way to do it every day, and if you’re lucky enough you might even get paid well for doing it.

For all of us, invited guests included, it was a good reminder to keep giving new things a go, even if it puts you outside of your comfort zone, because you never know where it could lead!  Moreover, it dawned on us, that for anyone who is raising young women, we also need to be mindful that we are also (potentially) raising future Mum’s. So in the back of our minds, there will most likely be a period of our daughter’s life, where she will need to take some time out to create another human being and also potentially manage and nurture this human into adulthood.  We need to support this in our industry to not only entice young females to step over into the (not so) dark side, but to show them that they are supported.  This is extremely relevant to Exposé currently as our General Manager raises her new child, whilst running the business.

[1] International Labour Organization. ABC of women workers’ right and gender equality. (International Labour Organization, Geneva, 2007)

[2] Drury, B. J., Siy, J. O. & Cheryan, S. When do female role models benefit women? The importance of differentiating recruitment from retention in STEM. Psychological Inquiry 22, 265 – 269, doi:10.1080/1047840X.2011.620935 (2011)