by Jennifer O'Brien

Grassroots push for girls to enter STEM: UN-founded Girl Up event

Oct 10, 2019
CareersCollaboration SoftwareGovernment

Encouraging girls into careers in technology – including STEM – is a top priority for Girl Up, a global movement founded by the United Nations which recently held its first Australian summit in Sydney.

Girl Up’s first Australian regional leader, Ashleigh De Silva, told CIO Australia the movement was hatched locally last year – and has grown to over 300 members.

“Girl Up is really passionate about getting girls into STEM because that’s something that’s been very male dominated for a very long time. So it’s great to get girls into that industry – it starts from the grassroots when girls are still in school and it’s important to foster that interest,” De Silva told summit attendees.

“And from there, the next thing you could be the head of Apple or Google – and do amazing things.”

Girl Up is a global movement of empowered young women leaders who defend gender equality. Through leadership development training, Girl Up gives girls the resources and platform to start a movement for social change wherever they are.

It was founded by the United Nations Foundation in 2010, and continues to work across a global community of partners to achieve gender equality worldwide.

Encouraging girls to consider a career in tech, event speaker GitHub APAC head of marketing, Eliza Dawes, told summit attendees her career path took some interesting turns – but ultimately ended up in tech marketing.

“My career path is a little unusual because I started as a chef. After cheffing, I became a personal trainer, and after that, I combined the two: nutrition and exercise and developed a six week food and exercise program and started my own startup. I coded an online mapping system so I could dish the program out to people all over the country.

“Then I decided it was a little too up and down so I went into enterprise after that, so not your typical career path.”

In the tech marketing sphere, for example, Dawes said there’s many different parts, and many avenues girls could consider pursuing.

“While I work in technology, I don’t have a technical background but it’s still a great industry to work in if you’re not technical. My day-to-day business is dealing with the marketing strategy and communications strategy for Australia, New Zealand and all of Asia for GitHub, and working with all of the different teams.

“It’s interesting how we talk to each different segment of the business, so all the different industries and different countries and how we communicate with them.”

Dawes encouraged attendees to consider a career in STEM, which is much broader than writing code and collaborating with the community.

Across the STEM spectrum of science, technology, engineering and math, she encouraged attendees to take a look at the host of professions on offer.

“In technology, for example, there’s technical and non-technical roles. Consulting, system design, mobile app development, data engineer, web development, software engineering.

“You could be a marketer like me, a software developer, you could work in sales as a business analyst, as a product manager, as a designer, as a solutions architect, a quality assurance tester, a release manager, and many other things, including jobs that don’t even exist now.”

So why choose something like STEM, she asked? If you want to change gender equality or fight climate change, “STEM gives you the skills where you can actually do something about it,” she said.

“Without science or the ability to look at the data and collaborate with your colleagues, it’s difficult to really make an active change. There are lots of ways to do it, but STEM gives you the ability to create change in the world and solve problems,” she said.

“Everyone sees the world in a different way, so we can’t have all white men solving the world’s problems – we need all different kinds of people, who see the world differently, and see the solutions differently, and see how to create differently. It’s really important that we have people with diverse backgrounds in STEM.”

Meanwhile, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Australian young ambassador, Daphne Fong, said today’s youth need more female leaders to look up to (particularly in government) – a situation that would ultimately encourage girls to take on more leadership roles in tech and elsewhere.

“Only 24.3 per cent of all national parliamentarians are women, as of February 2019. What is more, only three countries have 50 per cent or more women in power. As of June this year, only 11 women are serving as head of state and 12 are serving as head of government, out of 195 countries in the world today.

“The lack of female representation speaks directly to our attitudes about women in the political sphere. The treatment of our female politicians, especially from our male ones, and sometimes from our female ones, who are considered our leaders, is deeply concerning.

“How can we expect society to respect and treat women as equals when our leaders aren’t?”