September 29, 2020

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Engineering for Australia Taskforce to Boost Gender Diversity in STEM and Engineering

Engineering for Australia Taskforce

A new taskforce has launched a report that shows there is a need to change the perception of engineering in schools and society to increase gender diversity.

Engineering for Australia Taskforce reportedly aims to address the gender disparity among applicants for university engineering programs by tackling barriers to girls’ participation.

The new and independent national taskforce is founded by the Deans of Engineering at UNSW Sydney, Monash University and Australian National University (ANU).

About the Report

Its 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 the participation of girls in STEM and engineering. It also 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:

  1. Create an inclusive vision for STEM and engineering to address pervasive stereotypes, encouraging excluded groups to consider engineering as a realistic career.
  2. 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.
  3. Evaluate engineering intervention programs to map the landscape and build the evidence base of impact.

Background

UNSW Professor of Practice in Science Communication and the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, explained that Engineering skills underpin the functioning of societies and economies. These are also critical to building a sustainable future.

However, fewer than 10% of engineers in Australia are women.

It does not only 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.

Diversifying the engineering workforce will strengthen Australia’s economy as well as its 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, shared the need to ensure that the other 50% of Australia’s bright young people, the women, are afforded every opportunity to participate.

There should be a focus on wider STEM interventions as a start, while raising the profile of engineering which is silent within the school curriculum.

About the Taskforce

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, explained that the Engineering for Australia Taskforce believes greater equality and inclusion can start here through the lens of this report.

The Taskforce includes representatives from the following:

  1. UNSW
  2. Monash University
  3. Australian National University
  4. University of Technology Sydney
  5. RMIT University
  6. University of Adelaide
  7. Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering
  8. Engineers Australia
  9. Department of Treasury and Finance Victoria
  10. Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy
  11. Cicada Innovations and Gender Matters

The Taskforce also has 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.