A recent study across the Asia-Pacific region doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the way we’re encouraging girls into STEM careers, although there are some interesting take-aways. For the second year running, Australia has the lowest percentage of girls studying STEM in the region.
The study commissioned by Mastercard talked to women and girls in Australia, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. Generally the results are pretty much what you’d expect. A preponderance of men in the industry is seen as a disincentive for women. Focusing on successful STEM role models is a way of encouraging girls to pursue STEM subjects.
The main STEM career choice for the surveyed women was healthcare – which sort of skews the results I’d say, but also reinforces the comment about male dominance in the industry being a major factor in determining career choice. It’d be interesting to see a similar study which excluded the medical area when looking at things like how quickly women find jobs.
One of the most interesting findings was in relation to reasons for studying or not studying STEM. Lack of encouragement from society featured; but the overwhelming factor is parents. 70% of Australian girls believe parents are the most influential factor in studying STEM. I couldn’t agree more with that idea – we need to influence parents. The corollary of the focus on parents being the major influence is that teachers and schools are not, and so while getting STEM properly resourced and taught in schools is hugely important for everyone, that in itself is not going to fix the lack of girls going into STEM.
If we agree, and we generally seem to, that STEM careers are important for the country as well as for individuals, Australian parents are letting their daughters down by not making more of an effort to encourage them into STEM studies.