Increasing Women’s Participation in STEM: A Deep-dive into the Industry with Developers Institute

Claudia Reiners
September 29, 2021

Increasing Women’s Participation in STEM: A Deep-dive into the Industry with Developers Institute

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Women’s underrepresentation in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) study and careers has been well documented – with women accounting for only 24% of Australia’s total STEM workforce in 2019.

Extensive research has been already conducted to identify why these discrepancies have occurred and what actionable steps industry, government and education providers can take to solve this gender gap. However, we wanted to dig deeper – we wanted to understand what role (and how big of a role) education providers should play.

For this article, we interviewed Ruth Green-Cole and Isabelle Bierwirth from Developers Institute, a leading institution providing education and training to software developers. Together, we developed key insights on how education providers can drive more women into STEM.

Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM)

Although women’s workforce participation issues are not exclusive to STEM fields, sweeping experiences of bias and stereotyping profoundly impact girl’s and women’s development of confidence and interest in STEM.

There are several major factors that contribute to women’s low interest and enrolments in STEM. 

  • Gender stereotypes and bias
  • Limited exposure to STEM during K-12 schooling
  • Discrimination and harassment in the workforce
  • Lack of access to flexible working
  • Fewer career development opportunities

Ultimately, the combination of these pressures and influences have contributed to:

  • Fewer women enrolling in STEM study and a higher drop-out rate
  • Fewer job prospects for women
  • Lower representation of women in senior leadership positions
  • More women ‘jumping ship’ – switching to careers that offer more flexible working

What Australia’s STEM industries look like in 2021

Despite historical gender discrepancies, women’s behaviours and attitudes towards STEM are shifting.

According to the latest data from the Australian Government, women’s representation and participation in this industry showed real improvement. Girls and women demonstrated higher interest levels and participation in STEM study and careers in 2020 than any other year.

The data found:

  • Women’s enrolment in STEM university programs (undergraduate and postgraduate) increased by 2% over the past five years – jumping from 34% in 2015 to 36% in 2019.
  • The number of women working across all STEM-qualified industries increased from 24% in 2016 to 28% in 2020.
  • The number of women in executive or senior management positions increased from 18% in 2016 to 23% in 2020.

In addition to this, STEM industries are expected to grow exponentially post-COVID-19 – the future of work will demand more workers with STEM skill sets, regardless of gender.

The World Economic Forum, in their 2020 Future of Jobs Report, ranks artificial intelligence (AI), and web and software development skills as some of the highest soon-to-be-in-demand skills. Unsurprisingly, men vastly outnumber women in these jobs of tomorrow.

When discussing the software development industry in Australia and New Zealand, Co-founder and General Manager of Developers Institute, Ruth Green-Cole said: “We already don’t have enough software developers to fill industry demand”. 

Green-Cole went on to add that as businesses become increasingly digitised and automated, employers and businesses will “demand more associate developers to help fill growing tech gaps”. 

Despite this, Australia and New Zealand’s national talent pools are limited by the severe underrepresentation of girls and women in STEM education and careers.

So the following question stands: how do we develop and nurture enough talented software developers to fill industry needs?

The answer lies with education providers.

Shifting bias in education marketing – education providers closing the gender gap

Government data shows the participation of women in STEM education has been extremely low prior to 2020. In 2019, women made up only 22% of the total enrolments and 24% of total completions of the STEM cohort.

Despite the low percentage of women’s participation in STEM study, educators have stated STEM qualifications and skills will be crucial for Australia’s jobs of tomorrow. 97% agreed that STEM skills are important for the Australian economy and 89% believe that STEM skills will provide job security to future workers. 

A strong STEM education system requires education institutions to play a more active role in attracting, engaging and retaining women in STEM study. The positioning and advertisement of STEM courses can influence women’s decision to pursue study in a STEM field.

“There are a lot of stereotypes in this industry, which then creates barriers for women pursuing STEM. Once we remove these stigmas, we should see an influx of women enrolling in STEM study,” says Green-Cole.

“At the end of the day, education marketing isn’t about gender, it’s about talent,” says Isabelle Bierwirth, Head of Marketing of Developers Institute. 

“At Developers Institute, we make a conscious effort to remove gender bias in our marketing. We don’t specifically market to women or men – we market our programs based on potential skills and decision-making capabilities. This enables us to attract talented students who hold the right mindset and skills that will help them excel as a software developer.”

Without a doubt, years of gender bias and stereotypes have led to low representation of women in STEM.

However, research has made it clear that moving forward, our industries, governments and education providers all have a more active role to play. Creating and ensuring there are equal opportunities for all genders to excel in STEM will help us build a more diverse and talented workforce, and improve long-term economic security.

Developers Institute is a leading vocational education provider, specialising in web and software development training. Experienced industry professionals deliver a cutting-edge, industry-driven curriculum, focused specifically on preparing developers for fulfilling careers in software.

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Claudia Reiners
Head of Strategy
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