Bridging the skills gap by encouraging more women in STEM

29 May 2023 5 min. read
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A passionate champion of diversity and inclusion, Kelly Ryan – Chief Marketing Officer for Australia & New Zealand at TCS – explores how more women can be encouraged into STEM domains.

While the value and demand for technical skills are at an all-time high, the pace when it comes to women in STEM hasn’t moved as fast.

Women still only make up 27 percent of the workforce across all STEM-related industries in Australia, according to the 2022 STEM Equity Monitor published by the Department of Industry, Science, and resources.

Bridging the skills gap by encouraging more women in STEM

As technology continues to evolve at breakneck speed, businesses, educators, policymakers, and non-profits need to come together to build a strong pool of technical talent, one that is enriched by different backgrounds, experiences, perspectives, motivations, and skills.

his means going beyond providing equal opportunities. As this year’s International Women’s Day reminded us, in order to truly move the needle on gender equity in STEM, we need to provide girls and young women from all backgrounds the resources they need to develop their talents and achieve their full potential in STEM-related fields.

At Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), we believe creating equitable pathways to a rewarding career in STEM must begin during early school years.

Laying the foundation

We need to change how STEM subjects are perceived, taught, and encouraged in order to create an environment which fosters female involvement in STEM education and leads to greater employment opportunities.

Although there’s been an increase in the number of girls and young women studying STEM subjects in recent years, they’re still significantly outnumbered by their male counterparts.

According to news reports, women make up only 36 per cent of enrolments in university STEM courses, despite representing half of university enrolments across Australia. Even more worryingly, they account for a mere 16 percent of enrolments in vocational STEM courses, which often provide more direct pathways into STEM-related fields than university education.

This disparity has significant implications on our society: it limits young girls’ ability to explore STEM career paths; it creates products and services that don’t meet the needs of all consumers; and it can have a detrimental effect on economic growth due to the lack of qualified professionals available to meet industry needs.

Opening women’s eyes to opportunities in STEM

One of the biggest issues to address is the lack of awareness of opportunities in STEM. Despite the growing volume and diversity of roles emerging due to advancements in technology – such as AI, robotics, and cybersecurity – girls and young women are often unaware of the opportunities available in STEM or do not consider them viable career paths.

This is due to a combination of factors including limited access to resources and information; lack of encouragement or support from teachers, peers, or parents; and gender biases in the classroom that dissuade women from participating in STEM education. Additionally, lack of female role models in these fields further hinders young women’s ability to see themselves succeeding in these disciplines.

One way to increase visibility into STEM opportunities is by connecting girls with successful women who are actively working in the technology sector. It’s more impactful to hear directly from women about their experiences in technology roles and how technology can help solve pressing real-world problems.

Having a role model that looks like them and shares similar interests and values can also provide an emotional connection that is essential for inspiring ambition and self-belief among young women.

According to a 2019 survey by the Australian Academy of Science, girls who had a female STEM role model were more likely to report an interest in pursuing a STEM career (81 percent) than those without such a role model (56 percent).

Connecting school girls with seasoned female technology leaders is something TCS has been doing for a decade through various initiatives around the world. For example, in Australia, TCS’ goIT Girls program provides girls in year 10 and 11 the opportunity to engage with senior female leaders from TCS and other organisations, learn about pathways to a successful STEM career, and get an inside look into the functions of technology in businesses.

In December of 2021, the goIT program hit the milestone of directly impacting 100,000 students across 38 countries around the world.

Bridging the skills gap by encouraging more women in STEM

Safe spaces for hands-on learning

Creating safe spaces for interactive learning is also key to sparking interest in STEM subjects. Gender biases within the classroom can create an unwelcoming environment that makes it harder for women to fully participate and feel confident in exploring STEM topics. Immersive learning experiences led by successful women in technology open the door for exploration and increased awareness of the opportunities available.

But STEM education isn’t something that can only be carried out in school. By investing in extracurricular activities such as hands-on workshops, internships, tech bootcamps, and coding classes tailored specifically towards females, businesses can help create a positive learning environment that encourages women to explore the exciting possibilities across different fields of technology, such as AI, robotics, blockchain, and cybersecurity.

90% success rate

The goIT Girls program shows that when girls are given access to the right resources and opportunities, the results can be incredible. The program has achieved a success rate of 90 percent – meaning nearly all of the girls who participated went on to enrol in tertiary STEM courses.

Ultimately, encouraging more women to study and work in these fields is essential not only for closing the gender gap, but also for making sure the technology industry thrives with plenty of diversely skilled workers ready to take on new challenges.