A new taskforce has launched a report that shows we need to change the perception of engineering in schools and society to increase gender diversity.
Founded by the Deans of Engineering at UNSW Sydney, Monash University and Australian National University (ANU), the new and independent national taskforce – called Engineering for Australia Taskforce – aims to address the gender disparity among applicants for university engineering programs by tackling barriers to girls’ participation.
Professor Mark Hoffman, Dean of Engineering at UNSW, said: “Engineering needs the profession’s makeup to reflect the society it serves, and that means we need more women gaining confidence at school to join engineering programs at university.”
The Taskforce’s first action was to commission the report, Barriers to participation in engineering and the value of interventions to improve diversity, by Professor Deborah Corrigan and Dr Kathleen Aikens of Monash University.
The report explores the factors which affect girls’ participation in STEM and engineering and examines 115 international peer-reviewed research articles to identify key considerations when creating programs to attract girls to engineering.
The report recommends three actions to improve engagement with engineering:
- Create an inclusive vision for STEM and engineering to address pervasive stereotypes, encouraging excluded groups to consider engineering as a realistic career.
- Work with the education sector to create a STEM and engineering identity in schools by making engineering activities prominent, positive and personally and socially relevant.
- Evaluate engineering intervention programs to map the landscape and build the evidence base of impact.
UNSW Professor of Practice in Science Communication and the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, said: “Engineering skills underpin the functioning of our societies and economies, and are critical to building a sustainable future. However, fewer than 10 per cent of engineers in Australia are women.
“Not only does that mean that women are missing out on designing the future, but it also means that engineering challenges are being tackled from a narrow set of perspectives. By diversifying our engineering workforce, we will strengthen Australia’s economy and strengthen our ability to face the global challenges presented by a changing climate, food and water scarcity and globalisation.”
Professor Elizabeth Croft, Dean of Engineering at Monash, said: “Engineering is a high impact, future-proofed career that provides rewarding opportunities to serve society and design ecologically sustainable solutions our planet needs today. We must ensure that the other 50 per cent of Australia’s bright young people, our women, are afforded every opportunity to participate.”
“We have to first focus on wider STEM interventions as a start, while raising the profile of engineering which is silent within the school curriculum.”
The Taskforce agreed that more needs to be done to encourage young people, particularly girls, to study STEM subjects in school, drawing upon best practice scenarios from around the world.
Professor Elanor Huntington, Dean of the College of Engineering and Computer Science at ANU, said: “Engineers make our world, and we should be making a world that we all want to live in. Highlighting and then removing the current barriers to participation in engineering and evaluating possible interventions to increase diversity, will be invaluable to that vision.
“The Engineering for Australia Taskforce believes greater equality and inclusion can start here through the lens of this report. Along with my colleagues, I am delighted to support the release of this report.”
The Taskforce includes representatives from UNSW, Monash, ANU, University of Technology Sydney, RMIT, University of Adelaide, Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, Engineers Australia, Department of Treasury and Finance Victoria, Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Cicada Innovations and Gender Matters, with support from the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador.
Monash Education Futures conducted the research, which was funded by the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador and the engineering faculties of UNSW, Monash, ANU and the University of Technology Sydney.
The full report can be accessed from the Monash Education Futures website: https://educationfutures.monash.edu/barriers-to-participation-in-engineering