GWI consulting director and CIO, Dr Vanessa Douglas-Savage, is on a mission to get 10,000 girls in STEM by 2020.
It’s a mission she believes is already well on track thanks to the Superhero program by Australian not-for-profit group, Tech Girls Movement, that provides real-life guidance to help young girls get into and excel at STEM.
Douglas-Savage, who’s an active supporter of encouraging more women to study STEM and is a newly appointed board member of the Tech Girls Movement, said the program presents female role models working in STEM to act as mentors and superheroes.
While other government and academic programs are failing to encourage more girls to take up STEM education, this program is recording strong numbers, with 1000 girls signed up to their signature STEM entrepreneurship program in the past year.
Douglas-Savage, who said the program is vital for the future of the industry, explained how society needs to break down stigmas and stereotypes associated with the ICT industry.
“We have to stop making our industry seem unreachable and stereotyping the workers in the industry, and we need to stop portraying these mystical barriers that stop women getting involved.
“Evidence shows that a diverse team delivers stronger and richer results and ways of thinking. We see this time and time again within my own workplace at GWI where we record a 50/50 balance in genders. Quite frankly, we owe it to the future of our industries and the future workplaces, and it’s one of the main reasons why we continue to sponsor such a program.”
Douglas-Savage said the concept of mentors as superheroes is beneficial given the range of skills and experience the mentors bring, but is also a fun way of reaching the young audience.
“In technology we spend a lot of time talking about data and research. What we need to do is tell more stories about what you can do in the industry, how you can be super at it. The superhero role model is a great way of doing that because the young girls see just how high you can fly if you have a background in STEM.”
Tech Girls Movement founder, Dr Jenine Beekhuyzen, said research shows young girls opt out of STEM at six years old.
“It’s because of a lack of female role models, and a lack of understanding of what tech people do. Kids play doctors and nurses but no one plays tech, so there’s no concrete example for young girls.”
Beekhuyzen said STEM provides young women with the necessary skills to excel not only in technology, but in whichever future path they take.
“They learn good problem-solving skills and the ability to rise to a challenge and look for possible solutions. The Tech Girls Movement exists to give girls access to technology and programs to build their skills and confidence,” she said.
She said the program presents the female role models, women working in STEM, as mentors and superheroes featured in its Tech Girls Are Superheroes books.
“We inspire young women to solve important community problems with technology skills and business acumen through our annual online Search for the Next Tech Girl Superhero competition. We run hands on workshops for entrepreneurship, robotics, electronics and more.”
To date, 600 mentors have spent about 8,000 hours of volunteer time over the past five years. The organisation has distributed 80, 000 free books, placing one in every primary and secondary school in Australia (9966 schools).
“Our books present real life women in STEM as superheroes that change the world. The books use storytelling and strong powerful avatars to counteract the negative STEM stereotypes presented in the media.
“The inspiring stories showcase to all young girls that they can have a successful and rewarding career in STEM, Beekhuyzen added.