Overcoming STEM barriers for girls and women

Thursday, 25 November, 2021

Overcoming STEM barriers for girls and women

The best strategies to increase the number of girls in STEM and IT education have been identified in a new report from Monash University.

The report, which was led by Monash University’s Faculty of Information Technology (IT), identified best practices for recruitment and retention of young girls and women in STEM and IT education, such as reaching out to girls early in schools, recruiting strategically into undergraduate degrees and facilitating positive and inclusive experiences during their education.

Data from UNESCO in 2017 shows that out of the total enrolments of global STEM-related higher education, only 35% were women and the numbers are lower in Australia, with enrolment rates of women less than 20% of total enrolments in 2019.

The report looked at US-based and Australian studies that showed persistence of gendered stereotypes, influence of parents, educators and peers, and a lack of exposure to female role models in STEM and IT fields were some of the main factors preventing young girls from pursuing STEM education in schools and universities.

The study’s author, Associate Dean (Equity, Diversity and Inclusion) Associate Professor Yolande Strengers, said identifying critical factors that present barriers to women can help to provide valuable insights into how institutions can nurture a more welcoming environment to improve the representation of women in STEM and IT fields.

“Our report identifies US-based, Australian and other programs around the world that have achieved results through promoting computer sciences to young girls early in schools, introducing women role models and adjusting admission policies to adapt and target recruitment of more women,” Strengers said.

“Programs like ‘Girls on the Go’ from Miami University, the Digital Divas Club in Victoria or the Women in Technology Mentoring program at Monash University are a step in the right direction and we need a lot more initiatives like them to turn the tide.”

Faculty of IT Interim Dean Professor Ann Nicholson said the best practices identified through this research will help to guide the expansion of existing initiatives designed to encourage young girls and women through outreach, targeted degrees and cultivation of positive student experiences.

“As highlighted by the research, there is an urgent need to increase the number of women entering STEM and IT fields,” Nicholson said.

“We cannot look at this unilaterally as being a women’s issue that needs to be worked on only by women. We need to adopt a holistic approach in creating inclusive mindsets, interactions and institutions that move towards a more balanced future.”

Inspired by the strategies identified in the report, Superbots Industry Immersion, a pilot program to engage young girls in computing, was launched on 22 November by the Monash Tech School in partnership with the Faculty of IT and the Women in Voice ANZ chapter.

With the goal of providing positive exposure to computing and technology during a crucial decision-making period, during the program Year 9 girls created their own voicebot personalities and received feedback from women within the industry to help explore the history, ethics and societal influences on voice-assisted software development.

To view the full report, visit: https://www.monash.edu/it/edi/insights.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/luchschenF

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