A brighter future for the STEM industry requires more women in the sector, writes BT’s senior security propositions manager, John Penn in this opinion piece.
Lead image L-R: Angelee Worner, cyber security analyst, BT; John Penn, senior security propositions manager, BT.
According to the Australian Government ‘State of STEM Gender Equity 2023’ report, in Australia only 15 per cent of jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) are held by women.1 There is a tremendous opportunity to attract more women into this emerging and highly innovative field.
This current inequality not only stifles the potential of talented women, it also limits the power of diversity and innovative thinking that STEM fields desperately need. That’s why it’s so exciting to see recent investments for more women in STEM from industry, the education sector and government.
Whilst positive strides have been made, there remains a significant gender gap in STEM for us all to close. The consequence of fewer women joining and staying in STEM careers has significant negative ripple effects across industries, such as education, healthcare, primary production, and defence, to name a few.
It’s vital that we attract more women and increase retention by better supporting them as they transition from education into STEM fields, creating a more positive industry experience.
A key step is to continue to create STEM awareness among students and professionals, collaborating not just with universities but high schools and even primary schools.
Research shows the early years after university graduation are particularly daunting for women in STEM fields. The problem is that women in STEM have a high dropout rate due to factors such as lack of role models, mentorship, and a sense of belonging.
Importance of mentorship
At BT, we’re actively supporting women to discover and engage in careers in STEM.
I’m proud to say that over the past four years, BT has been supporting the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) Lucy Mentoring program for cis- and trans-women and gender-diverse people studying at the Faculty of Engineering and IT. The goal of the programme has been to help bridge the retention gap.
The program has supported over 1,000 students since its launch in 2010, and this year will provide mentoring to 128 students. BT employees with relevant skills have been mentoring a number of participating students.
It means so much to the graduates to have an experienced professional in their corner, supporting them on their career journey.
The Lucy Mentoring program has gone from strength to strength over the past decade to become a highly sought-after mentorship, which now includes industry workshops and learning days, too.
This year, we hosted a series of introduction to cyber security workshops with UTS students at our offices in Sydney, which gave students a firsthand insight into a career pathway in the cybersecurity industry. We also hosted an online interview skills workshop run by our talent acquisition team, which was so popular we had to repeat it. The exciting uptake shows that women are keen to get involved in these initiatives when they’re given the opportunity.
The Lucy Mentoring program also provides critical networking opportunities for women in STEM ensuring they feel connected to other colleagues and role models in the industry. We were pleased to welcome Sabrina Pedersoli, the Sydney lead of the Australian Women’s Cybersecurity Network Explorers program, as a guest speaker at our workshop.
Visible role models
We know “you can’t be what you can’t see.” As such, increasing the number of women in STEM ensures that future generations have inspirational females to look up to.
Creating role models raises the visibility of women in STEM, breaks outdated stereotypes, and ensures that girls and young women can identify STEM as a realistic future career path for them.
BT employee Angelee Worner, a cyber security analyst and herself a former Lucy Mentoring graduate, said, “Lucy Mentoring helped me build confidence as I undertook a career change into cyber security. It also helped me with the transition from university to the working world, giving me a safe space in which to ask questions and learn.”
Women – creating a competitive advantage
At BT we are already seeing women bring a unique perspective and set of skills to STEM, improving our ability to solve complex problems through diverse thinking styles and approaches.
In a world where innovation is paramount, diversity leads to a broader range of solutions, benefiting organizations and society at large.
Because STEM often requires collaboration, problem-solving, and teamwork – areas where women excel – their presence ensures better outcomes when we need to solve complex problems. Further, with more women comes an inclusive company culture that enhances creativity and innovation.
When we step up and support women in STEM, through graduate pipelines and early education, we’re also ensuring a robust future for industry at large.
Planting the seed early
In order for the future of STEM to remain bright in Australia, we need to keep looking at ways to break down the barriers for women and girls to participate.
Evidence suggests that young girls are already excluding themselves from STEM careers as early as Year Six. Before this tender age, young boys and girls tend to be equally interested in science, technology, and maths at school.2
Igniting the passion for young girls in STEM needs to start early by encouraging them and giving them the opportunity to engage.
We are proud to be at the forefront of the movement to get more women into STEM careers and would encourage even more organisations to join in.
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