News National Top astrophysicist says more girls urgently needed in STEM
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Top astrophysicist says more girls urgently needed in STEM

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A top professor is encouraging girls to pursue study in subjects like science, maths and engineering. Photo: Getty/ TND
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Seven-year-old Chloe wants to be a veterinarian, just like Dr Chris Brown.

Little Milana has hopes of becoming a pharmacist.

Hannah, 8, likes to build things. She has her heart set on being an engineer.

“My favourite subject at school is maths,” Hannah said.

Hannah, 8, wants to be an engineer.

“There is only one right answer and you have to concentrate.”

But research shows that young girls probably won’t end up pursuing these kinds of dreams.

Moves are afoot to change that.

In Australia, women make up just 27 per cent of the workforce in careers related to science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).

Despite making big leaps toward gender equality in recent decades, men continue to dominate in fields like medicine, IT and construction.

Even in fast-growing occupations like engineering, women still only make up less than 15 per cent of enrolments in engineering bachelor degrees in Australia.

And contrary to popular stereotypes, this isn’t because girls are naturally drawn to other careers.

Chloe, 7, wants to be a vet.

The gap is largely due to persistent stereotypes about which jobs are suitable for women.

It leaves women worse off – and not just when it comes to pay day.

Women could even be in danger in cases where only men have been involved in design and construction, award-winning astrophysicist Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith explained.

“For years, car crash test dummies were the height and weight of a man, so women were far more likely to be killed in traffic accidents as a result,” Professor Harvey-Smith told The New Daily.

“That means that cars were for a long time safer for men than women, simply because there was a gendered design.”

According to a report from European researchers, men are more likely than women to be involved in a car crash, which means they dominate the numbers of those seriously injured in them.

But when a woman is involved in a car crash, she is 47 per cent more likely to be seriously injured, and 17 per cent more likely to die.

Professor Harvey-Smith said it was crucial that women take on STEM careers because “the things we design have to be suitable for everyone”.

We need people with emotional intelligence and people with a vision for what the future looks like,’’ she said.

“In Australian culture we have stereotypes such as all pilots are male, all scientists are male and all engineers are male – but they’re not true.

“As parents and teachers, we need to break that stigma so girls can picture their future in science, technology and engineering.”

As students around the nation go back to school this week, the federal government is working to change this problem by offering $2 million worth of grants for projects that aim to prepare young people for a career in STEM.

The Maker Projects initiative announced this month offers STEM-related organisations grants from $20,000 up to $100,000, for up to two years.

“The government wants to make STEM-related activities and events accessible to all young Australians,” Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said.

Professor Harvey-Smith, Australia’s official Women in STEM ambassador, is passionate about encouraging girls and young women to dream big and get excited about pursuing a career in STEM.

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith is passionate about getting women involved in STEM. Photo: Twitter

“STEM is all about creativity – it’s about creating things and solving problems,” Professor Harvey-Smith told The New Daily. 

“If you’re trying to solve a problem, you have to tackle it from a range of different perspectives, otherwise you’re just reinventing the wheel.”

This push to encourage girls in STEM was firmly on the minds of parents who took their daughters to Melbourne’s new educational centre DreamCity.

The high-tech interactive city aims to inspire young children to explore careers in science, technology, engineering, the arts and maths.

The New Daily spoke to some of the girls taking part in activities at the centre.

Milana, 7, wants to be a pharmacist.

Milana, 7, said she wanted to be a pharmacist, just like her “mummy and daddy”.

“I also really want to help the homeless too,” she said.

Other girls said Australia’s catastrophic bushfires have inspired them to embark on a career in firefighting.

Amber, 12, said she wanted to be a firefighter after seeing “how bad the bushfires are on the news”.

“My favourite subject at school is science because I enjoy learning about the world and how things are made up,” she said.

“My career role model is Greta Thunberg because she stands up for what she believes in and wants to save the environment.”

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