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How do you battle perceptions that girls are bad at maths and science?

How do you battle perceptions that girls are bad at maths and science?

Nassim Khadem of The Sydney Morning Herald reports on the “identity crisis” that faces STEM careers according to Tabcorp CIO, Kim Wenn.

In April, Tabcorp commissioned Galaxy Research to do a national study of more than 1000 Australians aged 20 to 35.

It found that 65 per cent say their parents influenced their choice to study or work in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). Only 31 per cent said their parents inspired them to go ahead into a STEM career.

The study found that in most cases, women working in STEM follow the footsteps of one or both parents who have worked in these fields.

And about half the respondents working in STEM say someone tried to convince them not to pursue a career in STEM, including a relative other than their mother or father (15 per cent), a school careers counsellor/teacher (15 per cent) and a friend (14 per cent).

"I think that's pretty scary," says Kim Wenn, Tabcorp's chief information officer and the only female ranked in Australia's Top 10 CIOs.

About half the respondents working in STEM say someone tried to convince them not to pursue a career in STEM, including a relative other than their mother or father.

Ms Wenn, who wants to see more gender-diverse workforces and boards, says careers in the field are not being sold to women.

She says statistics show more girls than boys are dropping maths in year ten.

"The concerning thing is that women think they're not smart enough."

The study found the majority (60 per cent) of 20 to 35 year-olds list their perceived level of intelligence and lack of clarity around career pathways as the top two barriers to considering a career in STEM.

Women are more likely (46 per cent) than men (36 per cent) to say the barriers for them considering a career in STEM are that they are 'not clever enough' and that STEM's 'boy's club' image would make them feel uncomfortable (20 per cent compared to 6 per cent).

And even for those who are in STEM careers, more than half (55 per cent) of women rate their ability in STEM as average or weak, compared to 45 per cent of men.

Then there's the battle on pay. Last year, the Office of the Chief Scientist released a report that found just 16 per cent of the 2.3 million STEM-qualified Australians are female and that there is a significant pay gap between men and women in the sector that cannot be explained by women taking time out to have babies.

"Corporates have an obligation to start educating young girls about what the roles can be," says Ms Wenn, who adds that women now make up 39 per cent of Tabcorp's senior leadership roles (executives to middle management).

The bid to move women into STEM and ensure equal pay isn't easy.

"Progress is going to be very slow," Ms Wenn says. "This is a 20-year problem."

But there's a need to pull women up the ranks, she says. That way, "people may have an auntie in tech and go talk to her. The network of influence starts to make a difference".

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