Women make up 47% of all employed people in Australia, yet only 11.2% of working engineers are women.
Longtime WOB member and Face of WOB for Standing Out in the field of STEM, Bronwyn Evans said by getting involved in the early years with programs and activities, industry can help promote a positive engineering identity and benefit from better participation of women in the workforce.
Her comments come in the wake of a new Engineering for Australia Taskforce report which has found that introducing STEM subjects to students early is crucial to increasing the number of females in engineering.
The taskforce was pulled together in 2019 and last week released the report mapping the actions that schools, industry and government need to take to mitigate the barriers preventing women from choosing to study engineering, how to improve the uptake of engineering studies and retain skilled employees.
The taskforce includes representatives from universities across Australia as well as peak professional bodies including Engineers Australia.
“Encouraging girls into engineering education and workplaces can’t happen without showing the places that are waiting for them are welcoming and inclusive,” said Ms Evans, adding that industry needed to take action to address conscious and unconscious bias within their organisations. “And understand that we all, ALL, have unconscious bias. It’s not a bad thing, it’s a result of our environment and experience. But in order to change behaviour, you first need to understand it.”
"Industry has a role to make sure the engineering culture is inclusive and respectful; challenges traditional stereotypes; is free from discrimination and bias; enables flexibility and accommodates career interruptions and changes."
She said tools organisations can use to break the bias include pay gap analysis, parental leave, flexible work for all, removing names and gender from job applications, ensuring gender equal recruitment panels and setting targets for gender representation. “The list goes on. But it needs to happen now,” she said.
Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, said increasing the number of women in engineering will not only strengthen Australia’s economy, but also increase our capacity to address global challenges such as climate change.
“If we want more women to choose higher education in engineering, we need more girls to engage with engineering,” said Professor Harvey-Smith.
“We don’t want to be having this same conversation in 20 years, which is why we are calling on all sectors to take action now that supports teachers and early educators to build the engineering identity. We need girls to know that they can succeed as an engineer.”
Research shows that children’s understanding of engineering is developing around the same time as ideas and stereotypes about gender.
The Taskforce report outlines actions that schools, government and industry can take to:
- Encourage girls to participate equally in engineering, maths and science lessons and discussions
- Promote women as role models in engineering, maths and science, to show children what’s possible
- Create learning environments around engineering where girls can feel a sense of belonging
Monash University Dean of Engineering, Elizabeth Croft, said industry, government and education needed to work together to ensure girls’ interest in engineering is recognised and nurtured.
“There is a critical window in early childhood education, as girls form their identity and ideas about what they’re capable of,” she said.
The report also recommends teaching engineering as a distinct learning area, not just as a part of maths and science.
Listen to Bronwyn Evans in conversation with Claire Braund in this podcast HERE.
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