As pretty much the whole world is now aware, STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Yes… it took an acronym to go global before people started to pay attention to the importance of these industries for girls and women alike.
Women have been interested in these fields for generations. However, they faced almost insurmountable hurdles, as society was first convinced that a woman’s brain could not manage STEM, then that a woman interested in STEM could not be a good housewife or mother (assuming, mind you, she wanted to be either of those).
Despite this, some women managed to break through the barriers. Women such as Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan and Mary Jackson, who did the calculations that guided NASA’s 1962 Friendship 7 Mission.
Then there was Radia Perlman, known as The Mother of the Internet, was an early computer scientist and student of MIT in the 60s. She became an internet pioneer, developing algorithms internet technology still uses today — and holds more than 100 issued patents.
There are more, and closer to home. Women such as Karen Andrews, who was one of just two women, when she began her mechanical engineering degree, She would go on to become one of the first female mechanical engineers to graduate from the Queensland University of Technology. Now the Federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Andrews is one of only a few engineers to have reached the top level of Australian politics.
And of course Nancy Bird-Walton AO, OBE who was a pioneering Australian aviatrix, known as “The Angel of the Outback”, and the founder and patron of the Australian Women Pilots’ Association. In the 1930s, she became a fully qualified pilot at the age of 19 — the youngest Australian woman to do so.
It has taken a grassroots movement building into a groundswell to profile these amazing STEM women pioneers. — and to give young girls (and women) the confidence to speak up and show an interest in those fields.
The saying “we can’t be what we can’t see” is true for so many young women. That is why we need to have women in high profile positions and continue to tell the stories of those who pioneered the STEM path.
Doing this is already resulting in high school girls putting their hands up and seeing it IS possible to be all you want to be.
The 2020 International Woman’s Day theme is ‘an equal world is an enabled world’ — and a strong focus on STEM means industries will no longer be missing out on 50% of the population because of the generational bias that STEM is just for men.
That could help solve the current deficit in qualified individuals, which is predicted to worsen over the next decade, including many of the 9,000 jobs for the Western Sydney International Airport due to open in 2026.
Schools, universities and groups such as Western Sydney Women are working towards making this happen by enabling women to realise their dreams across the STEM fields. One such initiative is the Western Sydney Women in Aviation Program, which will take 20 girls and women through an interactive mentoring program over 3 months to connect them and encourage them to take up a STEM job in the aviation industry.
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