Last Thursday was the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. Introduced in 2015, this day is observed annually by the United Nations and other organisations to encourage and celebrate the involvement of girls and women in science-related areas.
The 2021 theme for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science was ‘Women Scientists at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 ’. This was in recognition of the important role women have played in researching the virus and developing techniques for creating and testing vaccines. It also acknowledges that the pandemic has had an adverse effect on the careers of women scientists, particularly limiting the growth of those in the early career stages.
Women today are still under-represented in STEMM (Science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine) careers. This is despite current statistics that show girls are outperforming boys at school and taking up 58 per cent of university places. Research suggests that this has more to do with self-confidence than any inherent difference in boys and girls.
There is evidence to suggest that schools make a difference in the development of self-confidence. A 2018 study released by the Australian Gender Equality Council found that girls educated in single-sex schools are equally as self-confident as boys educated at single-sex schools. The research, led by Dr Terrance Fitzsimmons of The University of Queensland, demonstrated that for girls in single-sex schools, there was no gender difference in self-confidence.
Fitzsimmons suggests that women’s confidence is eroded by external factors such as sexism and gender stereotyping present in co-ed environments from schools to workplaces. This means there is no difference in boys or girls: it comes down to the learning environment and gender biases (McConaghie 2019).
Research from UCLA showed that graduates of single-sex girls’ schools were more likely to have higher levels of science self-confidence than graduates from co-ed schools. A study by Monash University also revealed that girls in girls’ schools are 85 per cent more likely to study higher level maths and science subjects than girls in co-ed schools.
This research would suggest that girls’ schools have an advantage when it comes to de-gendering or normalising the study of science and maths. Girls look at their peers and see that it’s normal for them to study these subjects. They also see many older students and alumnae of their school go on to study and have careers in STEMM fields.
This is the case at Girls Grammar where we reinforce to girls that they can and should pursue any field in which they are interested. Our current programs, including the appointment of a staff member specifically to provide opportunities for girls in STEM, are encouraging girls to project themselves into STEMM related areas. Two weeks ago, we launched our Old Girls Mentoring in STEM program, which is supplemented by our STEM Enrichment Club. Designed by Director-Middle Years, Christie Dey, herself a qualified industrial chemist, The Girls Grammar STEM Mentoring Program supports Girls Grammar students by connecting them with inspirational Old Girls who work in science, technology, engineering, mathematics or medical-related fields.
Many of our Alum have pursued successful STEMM careers, allowing our current students to see and hear the stories of women who are forging pathways in traditionally male-dominated industries.
At the National Youth Science Forum in December, a number of our students met Jennifer Taylor (Class of 1990). Jennifer studied biochemistry and genetics at university before completing her PhD in schizophrenia genetics. Today, she is a senior researcher with CSIRO, studying wheat genomes and the impact on agricultural systems.
At our recent Old Girls STEM Mentoring Program, girls from Years 10 to 12 met 2014 graduating senior, Ashleigh Collette. Ashleigh spoke of her experiences completing a dual degree in mining and geotechnical engineering and geological sciences whilst working as a geotechnical engineer for BHP at Goonyella Riverside Mine.
In 2020, Tess Camm (Class of 2008), joined us as guest speaker at the Senior Investiture Ceremony. A fifth-generation grazier, Tess is the General Manager of Signature Beef, an award winning vertically integrated beef company, that draws upon technology, innovation, creativity, and problem-solving to deliver solutions that aren’t common in the marketplace.
At our 2019 Speech Night, Kelsie Melrose (Ford 2008) talked about her experiences working as a physiotherapist, including her time with the Gold Coast Titans.
Current parent and past student, Jennifer Cousens (Kitchings 1998) has spoken at both Investiture and International Women’s Day assemblies about her role as a paramedic and in upper management.
As a partner school with Queensland Minerals and Energy Academy (QMEA), our girls have access to inspirational women, including former Rockhampton Girls’ Grammar School student Tania Bauman, a Human Resources Business Partner with Coronado Global Resources, who returned in 2018 to encourage students to consider the wide range of science and engineering careers available in the resources sector.
Our Old Girls network is vital to stimulating our girls’ curiosity, inspiring their enthusiasm and motivating them to pursue their interest in STEMM studies and careers. We are grateful for their support of our current students and we remain committed to ensuring that girls’ career aspirations are not limited by gender stereotypes or perceptions.
McConaghie, Marise (2019) Girls outperform boys at school, yet still shy away from STEM
NSW Education Standards Authority (NESA), (2020), Nurturing Wonder and Igniting Passion: https://nswcurriculumreview.nesa.nsw.edu.au/home/homePageContent/view
University of Melbourne, (2020), Future-Proofing Students: What they need to know and how educators can assess and credential them: https://education.unimelb.edu.au/mgse-industry-reports/report-2-future-proofing-students