Statistics consistently demonstrate an under-representation of women working in IT – and limited improvement in the number of girls entering these fields after school.
According to a 2013 report by the Australian Council of Learned Academics, Australia ranks significantly below the OECD average when it comes to female representation across the tertiary fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) courses.
In IT, women accounted for only 15 per cent of enrolments, despite estimates that 75 per cent of the fastest-growing professions in Australia require STEM skills.
However, encouraging results are being reported as a result of high school outreach programs. According to Professor Caroline Crosthwaite from the University of Queensland’s Women in Engineering program, 2014 accounts for the highest-ever intake of females into its undergraduate program.
Professor Croswaite said the Women in Engineering program was established as a university-led, industry-funded initiative to address the gender disparity in engineering at both the tertiary and industry levels.
“At present, women account for less than 13 per cent of the engineering workforce in Australia, and industries that employ engineers are missing the benefits that diversity brings to technically grounded problem solving.
“We have high ambitions for the program, with the aim to achieve 30 per cent female enrolments by 2023.
She said the 2014 female cohort intake of 24.4 per cent compared to 21.2 per cent in 2013.
UQ Women in Engineering Development and Communication Manager Meg Stephensen said the results from the program’s first year could largely be attributed to a focus on high school outreach.
“In 2013, we directly engaged with more than 1,600 female high school students from 47 schools through on-campus and in-school engagement,” Ms Stephensen said.
“At each of our events we drive home the message that engineering offers diverse and exciting career opportunities and that a career in engineering is second to none with respect to the profound impact engineers can have on the world’s future.”
Rio Tinto, the Australian Power Institute and The Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association have partnered with the University in offering the program, committing five years of financial support.
Similar outreach programs elsewhere in Australian are also focused on increasing the number of girls entering STEM fields. A free event for high school girls from year 8 – 11, organised by the Victorian ICT for Women Network at Deakin University, was held in Melbourne yesterday.
Go Girl Go for IT encourages girls to consider a career in the tech industry by sparking conversations about women in technology. Australian tech company Nitro co-sponsored the event, and COO Gina O’Reilly told Dynamic Business that she hopes to see growth in the number of girls entering IT.
“For tech roles there are certainly fewer women in the candidate pool. So it’s about encouraging women to enter the field,” O’Reilly said.
“We wanted to get involved at the education level to encourage and develop the skills and confidence and everything that goes along with girls in IT. So we’re showcasing IT at school level, and generating interest around it as a really cool space to be in.”