On Saturday I got to wear my “Super Hero Trainer” badge. I was exploring STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) with girls aged 5-12 for Super Daughter Day in Melbourne.
The event was put on by Work180, a group doing wonderful things to further diversity in the STEM workforce across Australia and the UK, in fields including everything from mining to IT. They tackle the issue from both ends, working with employers and job applicants to better encourage diversity, inclusion and equality.
On the day we explored palaeontology and fossils in general, but also took a closer look at some of my favourite fossils that I work on. This meant the girls (and their parents) were introduced to some fossils, including the spectacular Gogo fish from Western Australia. There were some cool fossils to look at and hand around (the Megalodon tooth was a big hit!), fossils to dig up, and fizzy “bath bomb fossils” to prepare.
I was super pleased to be involved in such a fantastic event, which also had the girls making slime, coding robots and engineering wacky inventions such as a piano made from bananas. Work180 say “Super Daughter Day was created to counteract gender stereotypes which are formed in children as young as 6 years old and to encourage young girls to explore STEM in a fun environment.”
This really resonated with me, as although I had been curious and excited about science as a young girl, during my school years I momentarily lost the spark. I’m not sure exactly why, but it might have been a tired science curriculum or teachers who were lacking the relevant support, resources or background to teach science passionately. Fortunately, in my later high school years I had several exceptional teachers who reignited my interest in science and saw me swing my focus from humanities back to STEM.
I’ve mentioned the idea of the “leaky pipeline” with respect to women in STEM before. One challenge we face is initially attracting girls to STEM, which events such as Super Daughter Day are clearly making great strides to combat. However, in my field of biology in particular, the bigger issue is not attracting, but retaining women. Female students make up the majority of students studying biology at both bachelor and postgraduate level, but after this stage the percentage of females drastically drops, with just 17% of senior academics in Australia (i.e. Professors) who are female. The situation is even worse for those who belong to minority groups or are further marginalised, such as for women of colour.
I applaud Work180 for the incredible work they are doing, and many thanks to Tanya Butenko for her coordination and to my wonderful mate, Amy Miller, for initial introductions. The Melbourne event was completely sold out, but Sydney and Hobart still have their events to come and I’m told there are tickets left! Click HERE to order yours now.
*** See the original Work180 blog piece HERE