How can we increase women in STEM?

 

As a female entrepreneur, passionate about STEM, with a primarily female workforce, I am often asked this question.

 

The problem is complex, and no single solution will open the flood gates. There are lots of STEM programs aimed at girls in schools and women at university, as well as diversity programs in workplaces. But worldwide, we still lack an inclusive, diverse STEM workforce. Worse, it’s increasingly difficult to get students of any gender into STEM.

 

Over the last 25 years, in a variety of professional and volunteer roles, while raising two daughters, I have read the reports, listened to the debates, and seen and experienced enough to have a mature view of the contributing factors we must urgently address. Here are my top two:

 

  1. Mum and Dad

 

During my time as a course advisor for students entering the University of Wollongong, I regularly witnessed parents telling girls who were passionate about science or engineering not to ‘waste their good grades’ by enrolling in a STEM course, and pushing them towards law, medicine or finance courses. Parents play a huge role in their children’s selection of school subjects and university degrees, and most don’t appreciate the range of inspiring, influential and financially rewarding jobs to which a STEM degree can lead. The false and discouraging message they get from the media – and pass on to their kids – is that all scientists are researchers in obscure, underpaid jobs in shrinking organisations, reliant on insecure grant funding. If we help parents to appreciate that STEM is an expanding and potentially enriching (in every way) field of employment, we could change the advice they give their daughters.

 

  1. Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein

 

Historically, STEM role models have been male, world-shaking achievers, working in a purely academic environment. To show girls (and their parents) that women belong and can be successful in STEM, we need to show them modern women in diverse, attainable roles beyond academia. Female STEM graduates run governments and multinational corporations; they are building vital infrastructure, improving our health, growing new industries and finding solutions for climate change that are critical to Australia’s future. Let’s shine a spotlight on them.

 

If you have daughters would you encourage them to pursue a STEM career?

 

By Natalie Chapman, BSc MBA GAICD

 

Natalie is Co-Founder and Managing Director of gemaker, a science and technology commercialisation agency. Natalie is also the Corporate Communications Manager for ASX-listed Alkane Resources.

 

Her previous work, as General Manager of Commercialisation at the Smart Services CRC, resulted in two spin-off businesses. Natalie worked at ANSTO for 10 years growing technical based businesses and helping researchers take their inventions out of the lab and into use in environmental, power, mining, medical and manufacturing industries.

 

In 2017, gemaker won the NSW Telstra Business Award for Microbusiness. In 2018, Natalie won the University of Wollongong Alumni Award for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

 

Natalie has a Bachelor of Science (Honours) majoring in Chemistry and a Master of Commerce (Marketing) and an MBA.

 

 

 




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