The Australian Government is looking to increase the participation of women in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
A Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship consultation roundtable was held yesterday at Parliament House in Canberra. The participants included representatives from industry, academia and government.
The two main projects discussed were the introduction of a Male Champions of Change for STEM and the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot being promoted by the Australian Academy of Science, which then led into the contents and strategies of the proposed decadal plan for women in STEM and entrepreneurship.
One of the participants was Niki Robinson, President of the South Australian Division of Engineers Australia. She said the fact that there's been a commitment from government is a great step in the right direction.
"There was talk about giving women the confidence and strength to go into STEM and feel supported," she said.
"I think that there are some really important strategies that have been included within the decadal plan and further validated through the projects that are going to be funded alongside the decadal plan."
Robinson believes the lack of women following STEM careers arises from a misconception about what an engineer does, and the limited number of female role models and their stories.
"People think we're either constructing roads or bridges. There's no sense of, if I became a biomedical engineer, I could help someone who can't talk," she said.
"Someone put it very aptly yesterday in terms of, changing what does it mean to be an engineer. They had an example where a girl was recommended to join a robotics club because she was very good at maths. She didn't want to go because she didn't want to be considered a nerd. But when she got there she realised it was actually problem solving."
Another example she gave was of a university in the US which has had progressively more women entering into its engineering program and now has more females graduating than males.
"That's happened simply by changing the names of the actual units so they are more appealing for women," Robinson said.
"We need to be brave and embrace disruptive ideas when it comes to women participating in STEM so that we can drive the social change that is needed.”
Engineers Australia SA President Niki Robinson.