Women in STEM in Australia are making monumental strides, with new initiatives encouraging women to enter fields such as Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

According to research from the American Association for University Women, members of society generally tend to associate STEM subjects and careers with ‘masculine’ men.

Alexia Defrancesco, a 19-year-old med-school hopeful, has dreamt of becoming a doctor ever since she could talk, however, fulfilling this goal as a female in a male-dominated field has not been without its challenges. 

“Specialising in cardiology seems ambitious but it’s been my passion for so long, I’ve never really wanted to do anything else,” she said.

“I think it’s definitely been a challenge to be in a mainly male field, but it’s also helped me have more of a voice.”

Stereotypes, including those related to gender, are recognised and internalised by children from as young as the age of five, often influencing girls to disengage from STEM fields at an early age, due to their perceived social identity, as well as social norms and expectations.

This is evident within universities, with women currently comprising 15 per cent of all students enrolled in Engineering and IT degrees, a statistic which can likely be attributed to only 8 per cent of female Year 12 students enrolling in STEM subjects for their High School Certificate (HSC). 

This underrepresentation of women in STEM fields continues into the workforce, where they account for just 12.4 per cent of engineers and approximately 24 per cent of employees in the Information Technology sector.

The University of Technology’s (UTS) Women in STEM Decadal Plan identifies the barriers women face from a young age and recognises that their disengagement from STEM subjects does not reflect their interest in the field. 

To empower young women to engage in STEM fields, UTS runs holiday workshops designed to introduce senior high school students to the dynamic world of STEM. These workshops employ interactive activities, including working with robots, creating programs, and designing infrastructure tailored for unique environments, as well as providing participants with the opportunity to engage with professionals in the field. 

Architecture and engineering student, Caitlyn Putt, once attended these workshops as a high school student and now represents UTS, inspiring girls to pursue a similar path.

“I went to the STEM workshop in year 12, and now I’m actually meeting younger potential UTS students and being a part of UTS STEM myself,” she said. 

“It’s been extremely rewarding to be a part of the workshops, and I think they bring more girls to the field.”

The University of Technology, in particular, aims to create social change by focusing on creating fruitful careers for women that are not defined by gender constraints.