Research reveals 50% drop off in girls studying STEM

A new national study among Australian women* has revealed the substantial gap in young girls continuing to pursue STEM-related fields beyond high school, despite four in five (81%) believing STEM is critical to Australia’s future.

Key findings from the research include:

  • Only 18% of women currently go on to study STEM at a tertiary level, and 4% at a postgraduate level
  • Despite 81% of women believing STEM is critical to Australia’s future, 4 in 5 young women and girls hesitate in choosing STEM study
  • While 64% of women rank their mothers as the most influential female in their lives, 1 in 7 Australian mums lack the knowledge to guide their daughters towards a career in STEM

According to the research, only 18% of women go on to study STEM at a tertiary level – a 50% drop off rate from the 36% of girls studying STEM subjects in Year 11 and 12. Participation drops even further after undergraduate study, with only 4% of women studying STEM at a postgraduate level and a low 2.5% at a Masters/PhD level. This follows the findings of a recent government report which found that Australian women’s participation in STEM-qualified occupations makes up only 13% of the science and technology industry**.

Only 7% of Australian women and girls currently feel empowered to choose a career in STEM, with key factors being gender imbalance (56%) and feelings of a STEM career being inaccessible to women (20.6%). Currently, almost one in ten (9.5%) of women surveyed feel pressured by society to choose a career considered “more fitting” for women.

Natalie Buckley, Research and Development Director, Sunsilk ANZ says: “We are living in a more digitised world than ever before, so careers in science, technology, engineering and maths are critically important when thinking about jobs of the future. The perspectives and experiences of Australian women and girls from all diversities is crucial in contributing towards innovation and progress for the STEM industry in Australia.”

These findings are timely, given the government’s recent federal budget announcement which unveiled plans to invest more heavily in the digital skills and technological literacy of Australians. This includes training opportunities, cadetships and placements for women in non-traditional trades such as building, construction and manufacturing. In addition, by May 2024 the government projects that STEM occupations will grow by 11.6% (303,200 people), whereas all other jobs are projected to grow at 7.5% (771,800 people) over the same period***.

The research findings also suggest that there is a STEM gap to solve in the home. Young girls’ self-belief and career choices are overwhelmingly impacted by their mothers, with almost two in three girls (64%) citing their mums as their most influential role models. However, Australian mums feel largely unequipped to support their daughters in this space: currently, only one in ten (9.9%) mothers feel they have a strong understanding and knowledge of STEM skills to impart to their daughters.

To empower girls and their mums and help build their practical STEM skills, Sunsilk is launching its ‘Rethink Pink’ campaign, partnering with social enterprise, Girl Geek Academy to deliver a series of four interactive online workshops. Participants will take a deep dive into a world of STEM and experience things like the science of hair, use tech to code a mother-daughter videogame, engineer their own shampoo bottle and use real world maths to “Rethink Pink” and smash gender stereotypes.

Girl Geek Academy Co-Founder Sarah Moran says: “Girl Geek Academy is on a mission toteach one million women technology skills by 2025. Our partnership with Sunsilk is another step towards a future where women play a vital role in the development of innovations and solutions that ultimately shape lives. The perspectives and experiences of Australian women and girls from all diversities is crucial in contributing towards innovation and progress for the STEM industry in Australia.”

Sunsilk’s Rethink Pink campaign seeks to change the narrative for women in STEM and positively shift the limitations women and girls place on pursuing a STEM career, says Natalie Buckley.

Natalie Buckley, Sunsilk ANZ says : “Through Rethink Pink, we want to build girls’ confidence, showcase positive female role models succeeding in STEM and demonstrate that a career in STEM is accessible and achievable to everyone.”

Girl Geek Academy is a global movement teaching one million women to build the internet by 2025. Led by five women co-founders, they are working to increase the number of women with successful STEM careers. Their programs include hackathons, school holiday workshops, career incubators, work experience programs and corporate collaborations that aim to make technology accessible and exciting for both women and young girls. Girl Geek Academy also works with teachers, schools, corporates and startups to increase the number of women with professional technical and entrepreneurial skills.

/Public Release. This material comes from the originating organization/author(s)and may be of a point-in-time nature, edited for clarity, style and length. The views and opinions expressed are those of the author(s).View in full here.