Paving the Way for Women in STEM

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There are many of us in this world who spend a considerable amount of time speculating about the future of technological progress, economics and culture. Imagining what the world might look like in five to ten years time might be the role of a futurist but anyone in business can think about the role women play when entering male-dominated industries, how we might continue to level the playing field, and celebrate the organisations and technologies helping to bridge this divide.

Championing the Path to STEM

All around the globe, community initiatives, non-profit organisations and EdTech industry leaders, such as Blackboard, are partnering to give women equal opportunity to succeed in the workforce. In Australia and New Zealand, we have campaigns like the Tech Girls Movement Foundation (TGMF) that are crucial for the advancement of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. As we enter a new, even greater digitally reliant age, we need more entrepreneurs and pioneers to lead by example and inspire the next generation to push the boundaries of innovation.

Research demonstrates that girls opt-out of STEM as early as 6 years of age, in large part due to a lack of visible female role models and understanding of what STEM professionals do. The TGMF was established to counter this trend and is about nurturing that interest in STEM by engaging girls in their primary school years and during that critical window of time in their early teens. In fact, most girls become interested in STEM around the age of 11 but if that interest isn’t nurtured it can wane by the time they turn 15.

The TGMF runs programs designed to change girls’ perception of and engagement with STEM. One of the ways we do this is through our annual STEM entrepreneurship Techgirls Competition, which invites girls to solve social, business, and technical challenges. Students from ages 7 to 17 produce high-quality business plans, pitch videos and working app prototypes to solve local community problems. Through highlighting pathways and role models and connecting teams with female mentors, we foster the development of skills to help build confidence, courage, teamwork, and mentorship.

At Blackboard’s annual Teaching & Learning Conference, held in Sydney in August last year, TGMF received a free license of Blackboard Learn, Blackboard Collaborate and Blackboard Ally to support the work of TGMF programs. This has greatly expanded the reach of the initiative, allowing students to access courses online via a Virtual Classroom. These fully customisable courses give young girls across the country the tools they need to succeed in new fields of STEM education. 

A Brighter Future

In recent decades, many notable women have excelled in the fields of STEM, overcoming systemic hurdles – the same hurdles that have the potential to stand in the way of future generations.

Many EdTech and sociological studies reveal that women in these fields still face significant implicit gender bias and it frequently discourages them from participating. Bias and stereotyping often start even earlier than formal education and can affect girls’ confidence and interest in STEM fields. We consider ourselves fortunate to work with companies like Blackboard who advocate for women taking on leadership roles in the workplace and in turn act as role models to empower girls of all ages to gain the skills needed to break into computer science and technology industries.

Whilst we cannot predict exactly where technology might take us in the future, we can be certain that the number of girls currently exposed to technology is likely to be much higher than in years past given our schools are increasingly engaged in some form of online learning.  The greater exposure to technology can only be a boon as we see more girls envisioning themselves pursuing a future career in STEM.

This blog was guest authored by Dr. Jenine Beekhuyzen, a futurist who believes existing structures in the technology industry must change in order to serve tomorrow’s digital landscape, and that our children’s future job prospects depend on it. Her focus is on leadership, innovation, and education to champion Australian tech entrepreneurship, and address the necessary rebalancing of gender roles within the traditionally male-dominated STEM space.