South East Local Learning and Employment Network inspires young women to pursue STEM careers
In Australia women make up only 16 per cent of those with STEM qualifications, while only 12 per cent of women in STEM are high earners compared to 32 per cent of men, making STEM among the highest earning industries in Australia with the largest pay gap between men and women.
In response to these statistics, South East Local Learning and Employment Network (SELLEN) wanted to ignite the imagination of female secondary school students on International Women’s Day by showing them that anything is possible.
Hearing about STEM careers from successful women
SELLEN's inaugural Women in STEM Morning Tea was a celebration of International Women's Day, an opportunity to showcase women working in STEM, and promote the possibilities of a STEM-related career.
Students were able to ask women working in STEM questions such as “How did you learn about the skills you need for your work?”; “What is the hardest thing about your work?;" and "What is the most exciting thing about your role?"
SELLEN invited women from STEM industries to discuss their careers, such as keynote speaker Kate Charlton-Robb Founding Director and Head of Research at the Marine Mammal Foundation, who told her story of setting out to be a graphic designer only to discover a passion for the marine environment when she took up scuba diving.
Kate followed her dreams and achieved a Bachelor of Science (Hons) with a double major in Freshwater and Marine Ecology and Zoology and a Doctor of Philosophy (Genetics), with her research leading to the formal description and naming of a new Australian species of dolphin, the Burrunan dolphin. Kate’s message inspired the audience: Be prepared to work hard and you will succeed in your career and challenge gender imbalance.
Getting involved in hands-on STEM activities
The students had the opportunity to chat with these women about their STEM careers and to do STEM activities in a purpose-built Tech School with state-of-the-art facilities, such as robotics, electronics, sustainable housing, virtual reality and genetic testing.
These activities helped the students develop critical thinking skills, which challenged them and gave them a sense of achievement. Using real-life STEM activities showed students that they could succeed in STEM careers with the right skills, flexibility, critical thinking and work experience to adapt to change and innovation.
Pledging a commitment to gender equality
Inspired by the events of the day, students also contributed to a pledge wall where they committed to working towards a Balance for Better. Responses included: ‘I pledge to call out sexist behaviour and challenge gender stereotypes’; ‘I pledge to find a STEM-related career that I enjoy to work towards this year' ; 'I pledge to encourage younger people to be open to try new opportunities in STEM' and further.
Initially hoping for 50 students to attend, SELLEN's Women in STEM Morning Tea welcomed 130 students and supervising teachers. The event was a resounding success, with one student commenting: “The thing I liked most about the event was how interactive it was. We were able to talk to women who are currently in the fields of STEM and how we were also able to interact in a workshop activity.”
SELLEN's IWD focus on STEM industries and the women working in them helped inspire girls to challenge stereotypes, pursue success, and see that they are just as needed as men to drive progress and innovation.
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