The world has changed a lot over the last few years. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the essential role that science plays to respond to some of our biggest challenges says Misha Schubert, CEO of Science & Technology Australia – the nations peak body for science and technology representing more than 90,000 members.
During the pandemic, another seismic shift has been taking place in the media, on television news, and in Australia’s schools. Quietly but steadily. Scientists have become a lot more visible. And those scientists aren’t stereotypes of stuffy old men in lab coats – they’re a diverse range of brilliant women from across the country, the breadth of the science community, and with wide-ranging expertise.
They are Science & Technology Australia’s Superstars of STEM. If you’ve been in an Australian school over the last few years, you’ll probably have heard of the Superstars of STEM. But in case you haven’t, here’s a quick recap.
Since 2017, this world-leading program has fast-tracked the profile and leadership careers of 150 brilliant Australian female scientists, smashed gender stereotypes about what a scientist looks like, and inspired tens of thousands of school children to consider studying science, technology, engineering or maths. In the last two years alone, more than 21,000 Australian school students have been inspired by school visits and talks by the Superstars of STEM. The work the Superstars are doing is essential, and it’s making a difference.
Research shows that scientists visiting schools inspires kids to choose STEM studies. In a recent study, 94 per cent of teachers surveyed said a visit from the Superstars of STEM had influenced their students’ choice of subjects.
The program has also stratospherically elevated the profile and fast-tracked the careers of Superstars. These amazing women scientists are everywhere you look in the media, reaching a staggering cumulative media audience of 83 million people through more than 4000 media appearances from July 2020 to June 2021.
It’s hard to be what you can’t see. By nurturing these diverse visible role models of women in STEM – in the media, in public leadership and in our schools – this program powerfully shows girls and young women that STEM is for them.
And that is work that is crucial. In Australia, only one in four workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are women. In many STEM fields, the percentage is even lower. When young women and girls look for role models to inspire their education and career choices, mostly they see men speaking about STEM. In 2016, only 26 per cent of media coverage about STEM in Australia featured women experts.
So, we were delighted that the Australian Government recently announced a further $2 million investment to advance women in STEM through the Superstars of STEM program.
This powerful investment in Australia’s STEM leadership talent will enable 120 more brilliant and diverse women in STEM to turbo-charge their media profiles and career success over the next four years, helping to inspire the next generations of girls and young women into these crucial fields. It’s a crucial investment from the Australian Government in Australia’s science, technology, engineering and maths talent.
At its heart, the Superstars of STEM program is about brilliant women scientists lifting each other up to be visible public role models and inspire our next generations into these crucial careers. It powerfully ‘shifts the dial’ on women’s under-representation in STEM and will deliver more equity and diversity of scientists in public life.
And having more diverse and brilliant women STEM role models this ground-breaking program importantly highlights to young people that a career in science and technology is rewarding, exciting, and waiting for them.
This feature was first published in Education Matters Print magazine.