It’s gone widely unreported that the new data from the Department of Education’s u-Cube stats shows rare good news in changing perceptions of STEM enrolments (science, tech, engineering and maths).
While stereotypical perceptions remain around engineering and IT being a ‘boy’s club’; enrolments in ICT and engineering – key subjects for the rapidly growing careers that require STEM expertise – are on the rise with young women.
Stereotypes amongst engineering and ICT are some of the most pervasive and hardest to shift – think boy ‘brogrammers’ and middle-aged construction workers. However, the national drive towards increasing the number of girls going into STEM enrolments – particularly in ICT and engineering — is revealing positive growth.
That’s not to say there’s not a long way to go – only 16 percent of the STEM workforce are women, and while we’re starting to see an increase, we’re not out of the woods just yet. At the current rate, it will take more than 80 years to achieve gender equity when it comes to STEM degrees.
According to Graduate Connections, the overall domestic undergraduate enrolments rose from around 19,000 at the start of this decade, to almost 26,000 in 2015, and domestic undergraduate completion of ICT degrees increased from around 3,000 to almost 4,000 over the same period.
Female enrolments in ICT have crept up from a baseline of 10,000 or below, which stagnated over the last decade, to 12,000 in 2015. Over the same period, engineering enrolments have crept up to 18,000 nationally. It’s still a representation of about ⅙ for ICT and 1/9 for engineering – stats that make for uncomfortable reading when you’re imagining being the ‘only girl in the class’.
Domestic enrolments in higher education for women until 2015. Source: Department of Education uCube stats.
Yet incentives, including higher average starting salaries for female ICT qualified grads, and an increased focus on women in STEM is creating some cracks in the glass ceiling.
It’s only the beginning, but the push in the media to promote women in engineering, math and science has started to encourage more positive thinking around the topic. This means that the next generation are starting to see a more diverse range of industries that women are, and can be, involved in, and the gender gap in the technology and science industries is starting to close.
Continuing the conversation is essential. By encouraging and empowering women to enter these industries, we can diversify the workforce, creating better products, better companies, and fairer work practices.
We need to rewrite the stereotypes and myths around technology, created by the Silicon Valley and popular TV shows such as Big Bang Theory, and acknowledge that all careers — from corporate to start-up and retail to healthcare — will involve skills in tech.
There needs to be systemic changes to interest more women into STEM industries, and a large part of that must come from our education system. It may require some re-thinking the of the curriculum and what subjects, and skills, we tout as “necessary”, in order to be prepared for the future.
Further action is essential to improve STEM enrolments. Tech careers have some of the highest employability rates across the board, yet the lowest gender diversity. STEM is going to play an important role in for the next generation in an increasingly information-based and technological society. We need everyone, and especially the currently disadvantaged girls and women, to be prepared – or seriously lose out. – Heather Catchpole
Author: Heather Catchpole
Heather co-founded Careers with STEM publisher Refraction Media. She loves storytelling, Asian food & dogs and has reported on science stories from live volcanoes and fossil digs