Why are there fewer girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)?
Despite having more women in tertiary education worldwide, women are still underrepresented in STEM education and employment. Globally, there are only about a third of women researchers and students enrolled in STEM fields, even fewer in Asia and the Pacific. Professionally, women make up a mere 25% of jobs in science, engineering, and ICT.
In Malaysia, women make up a larger proportion of STEM graduates from local tertiary education institutions; however, men who are STEM graduates are more likely to be employed in STEM-related jobs than their female counterparts.
Why is it important to involve women in STEM?
Diversity in academic and professional fields is important for fostering innovation and avoiding a narrow view of the subject. Research indicates that diversity enhances problem-solving and creativity as it introduces varied perspectives and approaches to a problem.
Incorporating women into traditionally male-dominated domains not only brings in a fresh viewpoint but also taps into a pool of undiscovered talent. Empowering women in these fields can contribute to addressing gender disparities, enhancing socio-economic status, and promoting equality.
This is why efforts to diversify various STEM fields are not only about fairness but also a strategic imperative to foster innovation, sustainability, and societal progress.
Why are girls not taking up careers in STEM subjects?
This is a complex question that has garnered attention from researchers seeking to unravel its underlying factors. A few answers have been suggested.
Research suggests that early experiences play a role in shaping career interests. Girls, it seems, have less exposure to activities and toys that foster early interest in STEM-related activities. Studies also indicate that girls are most likely to underestimate their abilities, potentially impacting their confidence in pursuing STEM subjects at university.
While girls perform well in science subjects in school, for example, they also excel in other disciplines. This gives them a diverse academic option, one that influences their choices when deciding on university majors and, subsequently, career paths.
Subsequently, the prospect of being a minority may dissuade girls from pursuing STEM careers. Additionally, the fear of having to exert extra effort to succeed in a male-dominated field can be a deterrent to entering these fields.
What can we do to encourage more girls to take up a STEM career?
Encouraging girls to pursue a STEM career involves multifaceted strategies. During their early years, parents and schools must expose both genders to activities and toys that foster curiosity and exploration of the world.
Organisations such as the American Association of University Women and the National Girls Collaborative Project (NGCP) are dedicated to promoting STEM to girls and often facilitate direct interactions between female scientists and girls at school. Moreover, peer mentoring programmes in school, where older girls share their passion for STEM subjects with younger students, have shown encouraging interest in STEM subjects by research subjects.
As girls progress to the decision-making phase in school, exposure to successful women in STEM is essential. Access to role models plays a significant role in shaping career aspirations. This can be further encouraged by ensuring accomplished women in science are represented in the media, thus inspiring and motivating these young girls.
In the professional realm, the mentorship programme is increasingly recognised as an effective tool to support women in STEM. This is particularly true in a male-dominated environment.
How is Swinburne Sarawak addressing this talent gap?
Swinburne University of Technology has been at the forefront of bridging the gap between organisations’ needs and talent requirements. The university equips students with a strong foundation of knowledge to develop products and services that improve the quality of life and provides them with the necessary skills to offer solutions to businesses across multiple industries.
For instance, its Faculty of Engineering, Computing and Science offers study programs in a wide area of specialisation.
Through its School of Information and Communication Technologies, its Computer Science degree offers a data science major where students can harness the power of data for a career that drives decision-making and forecasting using big data sets.
Meanwhile, its Chemical Engineering degree gives you a diverse and exciting range of careers to choose from. On top of that, this degree is accredited by the Board of Engineers Malaysia (BEM), as it is with most of Swinburne’s engineering degrees. This recognition will pave the way for graduates to practice engineering in all Washington Accord signatory countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, South Korea, Ireland, and Hong Kong, among others.
Perhaps you may want to uncover a career path with enormous potential when you major in biotechnology, where you can play a significant role in making better healthcare, for example. Or you could even apply your biotechnology skills and knowledge in the areas of business, ethics, and environmental science.
A STEM degree is utterly worth it, as it is incredibly rewarding. It empowers you to help solve complex problems that impact society. Additionally, as demand for jobs in STEM-related fields increases, a STEM graduate can potentially earn a higher salary.
Experiential, values-first learning has always been at the heart of a Swinburne education. Find out how Swinburne Sarawak can prepare you to tackle tomorrow’s most fascinating world issues, today.
This article is written in conjunction with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, observed annually on 11 February.