Abutting the debate around STEM skills, questions regarding diversity in Australia’s tech sector have also been raised, with just one quarter of IT graduates and 10 per cent of engineering graduates being women.
According to the Government’s National Innovation and Science Agenda: ‘we need a concerted, national effort to overcome the cultural, institutional and organisational factors that discourage girls and women from studying STEM’.
Part of its ongoing research for Digital Careers, CSIRO has found that the diversity in tech issue begins at school, where there’s a marked lack of girls studying computer science at both primary and secondary levels.
Led by Dr Jason Zagami from Griffith University, the research has been published under the title: Female participation in school computing: reversing the trend, which attempts to identify some of the key reasons why girls aren’t getting involved.
The report found that computer science has not yet reached the same level of integration into schools as compulsory subjects like mathematics and general science.
In particular, the study suggests that maintaining girls’ interest in computing is critical through Years 7-8, as this is where female participation starts to decline significantly.
Dr Karsten Schulz, Manager for Digital Careers, explains that addressing parent preconceptions, exposure to positive role models and developing programs specifically for girls are all methods for maintaining their interest in the subject.
“Hearing from successful females working in the field and being exposed to the different career options available in the industry will help young girls to consider computing subjects and professions,” Dr Schulz says.
The report also suggests schools introduce code clubs for girls in early years, before social pressure begins to rise.
Digital Careers is a Government-backed education industry collaboration that combines research, primary, secondary, and tertiary institutions.