Breaking stereotypes and championing diversity in STEM
Did you know that STEM can lead you to become a theme park ride designer? How about a marine biologist studying the ocean or a data scientist helping to improve crop yields?
From building robots to developing vaccines, careers in science, technology, engineering, and maths (STEM) offer a range of opportunities that are as diverse as they are rewarding. They are, however, often depicted as only suitable for students gravitating towards numbers, computers, experiments, and equations. This is not the case.
No matter what they are interested in, whether that be sports, design, music, animals, or solving puzzles, a career in STEM offers endless opportunities for students to pursue their passion and make a positive impact while doing so.
The benefits of STEM education also go far beyond just job opportunities. STEM skills are used in our day-to-day and are essential to productivity and innovation.
But STEM jobs are not just varied and interesting, they are growing twice as fast as non-STEM occupations, according to the National Skills Commission (2022). On top of this, STEM industries hugely benefit from employing a diverse range of voices, perspectives, and backgrounds. Research has consistently shown that diverse teams and workforces lead to better problem-solving, increased creativity, and improved productivity.
Despite all of the positives associated with working in STEM, Australia’s 2021 Youth in STEM survey revealed that 42% of boys aspire to a career in STEM, while only 21% of girls share the same ambition. This stark disparity only seems to widen as students get older. Most girls who want to work in STEM are aged around 12 to 13, and interest in engineering drops from 8% at 14 to 17, to only 5% at 18 to 25.
Research suggests that one of the reasons that girls are less likely to pursue STEM fields is because they have lower confidence levels in their maths and physical science skills compared to boys, even though their performance is similar.
The differences do not end at school, either. A report from the Office of the Chief Scientist shows that only 0.5% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people hold a STEM degree, while according to the STEM Equity Monitor report, women make up only 36% of STEM university enrolments.
So, what can we do to shift these trends and bring the benefits of a STEM career to more young people?
The role of parents and industry
As young people contemplate their future, parents and families serve as a key influencer in encouraging their children to explore career paths based on passions and capabilities.
Students may not always realise the range of available careers in STEM or the relevance or transferability of STEM skills, such as creativity, problem-solving and teamwork. This can result in them ‘switching off’ during STEM classes or choosing non-STEM subjects without considering future career options.
Parents can play an essential role in nurturing their children’s curiosity in STEM by discussing and exposing them to where STEM concepts can be seen outside of school, and supporting them to explore career paths that benefit from STEM skills and qualifications (hint – it’s most of them!). They can also help their children build essential STEM skills by encouraging them to participate in STEM-related extracurricular activities or hobbies.
For those students seemingly uninterested in STEM subjects, it can be helpful for parents to discuss the benefits of the problem solving and critical thinking skills that are developed in these subjects, and relate them to their child’s more obvious interests.
But parents are not the only ones who can support young people in STEM. Industry can offer work experience, mentorship and site visits to showcase their work and provide students with a glimpse into what STEM could look like outside the classroom.
By doing this, businesses are not only investing in their future workforce but are supporting students to explore careers in related STEM fields.
Let’s promote STEM education and careers
Highlighting diversity is necessary to encourage diversity. And we all have a role to play.
This is why, Generation STEM has launched #WithSTEMYouCan, a movement that showcases STEM professionals from diverse backgrounds and experiences.
You can support this mission by getting involved in the campaign, sharing what STEM has enabled you to do using the hashtag #WithSTEMYouCan or resharing our content.
Join Generation STEM’s campaign and see how #WithSTEMYouCan make a difference.
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