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Visible female STEAM role models plan needed

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You can’t be what you can’t see and that applies for STEAM career pathways for women, but there needs to be a strategy set in place if strong female STEAM role models are to be made available to young ladies.

Public representation of STEAM still looks quite male so visibility is key, everywhere; women role models need to be at conferences, in leadership positions, on boards, on conference panels and in the media.

However, STEAM professionals involved in outreach activities and public engagement often do so voluntarily, and women from under-represented groups feel as though this can be an imposition and at its worst a negative for their careers.

It is important nevertheless, enabling greater attendance and involvement of women in conference and public events can have a positive effect on the retention and progression of women in STEAM, as participation in these events can positively contribute to career progression.

This means it is important to incentivise STEAM professionals to participate and to share the load. Conference organisers need to put in a concerted effort to engage a broader range of speakers so that representation is not constantly expected of a small number of women.

Women STEAM professionals are also under-represented in Australian mainstream media; women are quoted as sources in 26% of science and technology related news stories. Media outlets worldwide have traditionally under-represented women in STEAM.

While some media agencies do make an effort to represent women, there has not been a consistent national effort to achieve gender equity in media representation of STEAM.

Social media is also a powerful influence. Research indicates that scientists’ social media accounts can have a significant reach outside the scientific field and influence young people making career choices.

So what must happen? First utilise policy and other levers to facilitate participation of women in STEAM conferences and events and require gender equity on panels and programs of STEAM related conferences and events. Leaders in government, industry, academia, the education sector and in the community should ensure grant and sponsorship support for STEAM events and conferences is conditional on equal representation of women.

Media and STEAM organisations must work together to ensure diverse media content and representation by supporting media and communication training, including social media, to employees.

Public and private media organisations should audit the gender component of their public reporting of STEAM and draw on existing resources such as Science Media Exchange (SciMEX) and the STEAM Women directory to diversify their sources.

Of people aged 18–29, 26% identify social media as their most trusted source of news. A rising number of STEAM individuals use social media heavily, with an estimated 48,000 scientists worldwide having a Twitter account, 38% are women. That resource is available to women easily and publicity around that fact could drive young women to engage with the scientists on social media.

Opportunities should also be sought to showcase diversity in STEAM and non-STEAM-specific events and environments to reach and inspire new audiences, particularly girls, and to make visible and celebrate diversity in STEAM.

The face of STEAM should reflect the diversity of people who choose STEAM careers. STEAM professionals of all genders should have the opportunity to be role models.

There should be recognition of efforts made by role models and leaders for actively contributing to outreach activities to assist students’ awareness of the diversity of career paths available to them.

A consolidated government-led national campaign offers one mechanism to challenge stereotypes in STEAM, illustrating that a career in STEAM can be exciting and an option for people of all genders and from all backgrounds.

From the Women in STEM Decadal Plan

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