Although the fields of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) have, in the past, largely been dominated by men, there has been a push in recent years to encourage women with active interests in these subjects to pursue them as a career. As technology advances to meet the needs of modern societies, more workers will be required in these areas, and opportunities will open for critical and creative young thinkers—regardless of gender.
In 2018, a group of graduates and undergraduates came together and founded the Women in STEM club at UniSA. Also known as WinSTEM, the club was formed with the intention of connecting women, by promoting an inclusive culture through community involvement. WinSTEM currently boasts more than 90 registered members, making them one of the larger clubs at the university.
A study last year revealed that STEM industries attract the highest wages in Australia, but also feature the largest pay gap between the hourly earnings of men and women. Despite the efforts by noted public figures, women still appear hesitant to apply for jobs that have been seen to be largely dominated by men—an issue which WinSTEM hopes to resolve through empowerment.
‘I was recruited to the sales and marketing department of my IT firm and shared the conference hall with nine other senior managers, all of which were men. Sometimes, I felt as though I was trapped in a cage with a few crocodiles,’ tells 2019 Women in STEM President, Lekshmi Shylaja.
Clubs like WinSTEM are vital to encourage women who are passionate about the industry, as they promote the growing opportunities in this domain and equip members with all the necessary aids to become successful in their chosen career path.
UniSA offers numerous degrees in STEM fields including: Engineering, Aviation, Information Technology, Mathematics, and a variety of other sciences. As well as this, students studying Medicine and Business subjects are also represented in the club, demonstrating the extensive reach of the STEM domain. The university also reflects the gender equity promoted by the club, with 47 percent of STEM teaching staff at UniSA identifying as female.
Despite the name, WinSTEM is inclusive of all different backgrounds, experience, and genders. One of their main priorities is to seek those with a passion for the industry and support the advancement of women in the field. The club has noted that over the past year, there has been an increase in men who are expressing an interest to be involved in the club. As well as this, the ratio of domestic to international student membership is nearly equal.
There is little wonder as to why WinSTEM is creating such a stir on campus. The club provides excellent opportunities for members by building an internal network and connecting them with professionals in the STEM workforce. In addition to this, it promotes networking and mentoring programs conducted by accredited institutions. There is also considerable collaboration with other universities to inflate the exposure delivered to the club members.
Events and activities have included a mentoring and guidance session by Dr Ceri Bonner, from the Central Laser Facility at Rutherford Appleton Laboratory, who was awarded the ‘Australian Institute of Physics, 2018 Women in Physics Lecturer’ prize. In addition to this, one of the club’s most notable incentives was ‘An Afternoon with Coopers Brewery’ held late last year. The event aimed to bridge the gap between students and academics by connecting them with those who have a combined 65 years of experience in STEM roles at the Coopers Brewery. The event provided a unique opportunity for the participants to meet new people and build networks.
Despite all of the excellent opportunities the club promotes, there has still been a minority of people who feel threatened by the push of inclusivity. However, with the 300-plus followers on Facebook, the collective efforts of WinSTEM haven’t gone unrecognised.
‘Whether it be positive or not, it shows that WinSTEM, and its activities, are getting noticed. It definitely helps us to identify our weaknesses and the areas for improvement,’ tells Lekshmi.
Words by Ryan Colsey
Images provided by Women in STEM
This piece was originally published in Edition 29.