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Empowering girls will get more women into STEM and business

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Annie O'Rourke
Director of the Academy for Enterprising Girls and CEO of 89 Degrees East

The United Nations International Day of the Girl Child, on October 11, is a day celebrating girls’ empowerment achievements and contributions to our world.

For women and girls around the world, the quest for empowerment and equality continues across many different aspects of society. While we’re making great progress in some areas, other areas continue to be a challenge.

Take the STEM workforce for example. Only 16 per cent of people working in STEM-skilled professions today are women - and about the same percentage of women are graduating from uni or TAFE with a STEM-related degree.

This disparity may not seem like a big deal, but it has real-world consequences for women, society and our economy further down the track.

That’s because STEM and entrepreneurial skills are in hot demand here in Australia.

STEM-based jobs make up 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations and higher paying jobs. The digital economy and new technology are transforming the future economic landscape. And demand for workers with skills in STEM is growing exponentially.

In fact, a recent examination of Australian job ads found that jobs requiring enterprise skills - skills like critical thinking, creativity and teamwork - have grown by over 200 per cent in the last three years.

Yet women aren’t getting their fair share of the pie.

If we want to get more women into our growing workforce and secure their economic security, we need to focus on helping girls realise they can be scientists, CEOs and startups too.

We need to make these professions appealing to girls, because we all know - you can’t be what you can’t see.

The problem is, if we start marketing STEM and entrepreneurship to women as they’re leaving school, it’s often too late. We need to do better at targeting girls as they enter high school.

So how do we empower young girls to see STEM and enterprise as a fun and rewarding career pathway?

The Academy for Enterprising Girls, launched on October 11, is one way COSBOA and the broader business community is hoping to encourage girls to become entrepreneurs, scientists and digital business leaders.

The program has been co-designed by girls and uses stories from real women who are succeeding both in the boardroom and in the tech industry.

Women like Melanie Perkins who started Aussie success story Canva - a leading tech startup now valued at over $1 billion. Julie Trell who founded muru-D to support founders creating technology to solve challenging global problems. And Tea Devow, a young Canberra girl who has started her own Indigenous clothing label.

When we talk about and show girls the women in leadership roles who are pioneers in their field, or their peers who are out there having a go, it can have a dramatic impact on their own ambitions.

The Academy for Enterprising Girls importantly has the backing of an alliance of industry heavyweights and successful female entrepreneurs who want to showcase their world to Australian girls and show them what’s possible.

That’s what makes the Academy for Enterprising Girls so special. It is a fun platform for girls to actively engage with and be inspired by women doing the kinds of jobs they might one day aspire to do.

Female business networks such as SheEO, Mamamia, Future Women, Tech Ready Women, and entrepreneurship educators Foundation for Young Australians, Young Change Agents, Tech Girls Movement and Code Camp have contributed their knowledge to encourage a new generation of female business leaders. Other organisations like Code Like A Girl, Girl Geek Academy, Code Club, the National Youth Science Forum the Academy of Science can offer girls great experiences too.

A range of industry partners and supporters including Atlassian, Google, Amazon, Cisco, Canva and others have also contributed time and in-kind support to the program because they see the critical need to encourage more girls into their industries.

International media and publishing company Rebel Girls, creators of the trailblazing Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls books, also sees the value of building links between enterprising girls in Australia and overseas, and has come on board as an international partner.

And some really inspiring girl founders - young girl CEOs - are sharing their stories to show it’s never too early to start your own business.

Registrations are now open for the free program, which offers girls an inspiring and accessible portal through which to solve problems, learn skills like coding, and understand what it takes to run a business.

It really is a one-stop shop for girls to get an insight into the world of STEM and business, and see how it can be a great fit for them too.

Getting the gender balance right in entrepreneurship and STEM is everybody’s business. If we can encourage more girls to aspire to be business leaders and scientists, we will see more equality in our workforce, more innovation in our economy and a maybe a few more scientific breakthroughs on the horizon as well.

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