The sky is no longer the limit for women in STEM

This Friday we celebrate International Women’s Day with the theme "balance for better". It will shine a light on why balance is not only a women’s issue, but essential for economies and communities to thrive.

In science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) professions, we still have a long way to go before we truly achieve that balance.

It is particularly evident in my field – aerospace engineering – where less than 10 per cent of the workforce are women.

Unfortunately, a lot of young girls do not consider a career in STEM and opt out of such careers early in their education, limiting the diversity, insight and lived experience required for scientific advances.

At UNSW Canberra, we’re addressing this imbalance by reaching out to year 9 and 10 girls in our community. In year 11 and 12 they will make the decision of whether or not to continue mathematics, study physics and gain the foundational skills they need to pursue STEM subjects at university.

Each January, we host a summer program for Young Women in Engineering, or YoWIEs. The participants spend three days experiencing the different engineering disciplines, meeting female engineers and seeing where studying maths and science in high school can take them.

This Thursday, we will present the UNSW Canberra Prize for the best female student in mathematics. The prize recognises the top year 9 and 10 mathematics students from the region at a critical point in their education. By recognising girls with a passion for maths and science, we hope they will not only be more likely to pursue a STEM-based career, but will themselves become role models for those around them.

Many of the STEM careers these students will embark upon probably don’t exist yet.

However, further education provides the foundation to contribute and lead Australia’s innovative future. Potential careers for these young women include tackling the big issues such as climate change, creating low and renewable energy solutions for our future, as well as space exploration and access and advancing high-speed flight. 

I feel we are entering the golden age of women in STEM – we have always been here, but our profiles and presence are becoming noticed more regularly, and there are more dedicated networks to support and mentor young women into these fields. The sky is no longer the limit for these girls.

Dr Bianca Capra is a senior lecturer at UNSW Canberra’s School of Engineering and Information Technology. She is also one of Science and Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM.