Girls and STEM

A new program to inspire young women to pursue degrees and careers in science and technology, the Science 50:50 initiative, has a simple premise – since half of the population is female, why not half the scientists and technologists?

The program is led by UNSW’s Scientia Professor Veena Sahajwalla and will provide scholarships, mentors, networking and industry immersion opportunities to girls so they can succeed in an innovation-driven future.

Girls are under-represented in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The number of female high school students taking advanced maths, for example, is half that of boys and only 1.5 per cent of Year 12 girls study the STEM trio of advanced maths, physics and chemistry.

This has a lot to do with their perception of science as a career, says Professor Sahajwalla, who was the only girl in her engineering course at university.

“If we want to secure Australia’s future prosperity, challenging the stereotype of the scientist as a man in a white lab coat is a good place to start,” she sais.

In January 2015, Professor Sahajwalla launched Science 50:50 at the National Youth Science Forum in Canberra – a gathering of year 12 students who are interested in science. Other guest speakers included ARC Chief Executive Officer, Professor Aidan Byrne; Vice President of Lockheed Martin Australia, Laura Frank; and Chief Executive Corporate Affairs at Arrium, Gillian Burrows.

Professor Sahajwalla will use part of a prestigious Laureate Fellowship worth $2.37 million she won in 2014 to help promote female participation in science through the Science 50:50 program.

Program objectives

Science 50:50 will:

  • Create industry networking and internship opportunities for girls to gain experience and a foot into scientific careers
  • Launch a New Innovators Competition offering university scholarships to the girls who submit the most original and innovative ideas for solving real world problems
  • Provide an engaging video series on extraordinary women in research, industry and other areas
  • Engage girls with science and technology through school visits
  • Build a network of interested people to help link girls with mentors.

Women in Science & Industry Symposium

Celebrate International Women’s Day by attending this free Women in Science & Industry Symposium on Friday 6 March.
Co-presented by UNSW Science and the Australian National Maritime Museum, the Symposium will include talks from successful female scientists and play host to the Sydney launch of the UNSW Science 50:50 program.

The event will also include panellists from CSIRO, IBM, Cochlear, Woolworths and the Australian Museum, discussing internships, networking and mentoring pathways for succeeding in science degrees and careers.

Register to attend

About the author
Sarah Terkes is the UNSW Science 50:50 Campaign Manager.