by Jennifer O'Brien

Industry aligns to fight for STEM gender equity

Sep 04, 2019
Artificial IntelligenceAugmented RealityBig Data

Catrion Wallace
Credit: Flamingo Ai

Ninety per cent of coding and engineering is done by men, according to Flamingo Ai founder and executive director, Dr Catriona Wallace.

“A lack of diversity poses a real risk of data bias being hard coded into the machines and algorithms that will run our lives, as individuals, organisations, governments and communities,” Wallace says.

With that dire statistic in mind, a group of companies including Cochlear, Toyota Australia, KPMG, Flamingo Ai and the Australian Academy of Science have joined forces to help fight for STEM gender equity.

Under the plan, the Australian STEM leaders are taking the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute’s (AMSI) Women in STEM Pledge to ‘pay it forward’ by creating opportunities for a new generation of women.

Launched at STEMFest 2019: Women Changing Australia, industry and members of the Australian STEM workforce at every stage of their career are joining the pledge online.

The aim is to take real action to boost diversity. Those who sign on will say they ‘take the #WiSTEMpledge to open opportunities for women in STEM’.

Pledgers can also show their support and commitment by posting a picture with the official downloadable pledge sign on social media using the #/WiSTEMpledge hashtag.

The pledge, says AMSI’s director, professor Brown, is not about putting a timeline on change.

“Whether through established or future initiatives, workforce planning or an AMSI APR. Intern placement, this is about being the change we want to see. The key is action,” says professor Brown.

The team will engage with those pledging along the way to support their success by promoting and celebrating the impacts of opportunities opened.

APR.Intern national program manager, Cate Ballard and APR.Intern program director, Gary Hogan.

Representing only 16 per cent of Australia’s science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) workforce, women account for only 22 per cent of the tech workforce and just seven per cent of those in engineering.

These numbers, according to Wallace, remain too low.

“As a leader in technology I feel a strong obligation to forge pathways for women – that’s one of the reasons I founded Flamingo Ai. I’ve led a technology company that holds gender and diversity at its heart and, also used my voice to educate the market on the importance of the role of women, equity and diversity in the sector.”

Creative problem solvers and strong collaborators, women bring a different lens to STEM challenges and the human side of innovation, Wallace says. Harnessing these perspectives, says Wallace, will be essential to how we shape technology and AI and its role in our lives.

“Australian women have and continue to make significant contributions to STEM. Promoting these achievements and nurturing future talent will defy gender stereotypes and drive diversity to support innovation,” she says.

Having made the pledge himself, AMSI’s APR.Intern Program Director, Gary Hogan hopes others will use the pledge to pay it forward for the next generation of women in STEM.

“It only takes one person to change a life, but together we can change a generation. Increasing the number of women in STEM not only ensures a secure skill supply but it delivers diversity of ideas and innovation that reflects and lifts our whole community,” Hogan says.