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Changing perceptions - Vogue and Westpac demystify STEM
21 June 2019
Are you a digital native or digital immigrant? Digital immigrants are the type who, you imagine, would shy away from a career in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM). Digital natives (16 to 24-year-olds) would be all over those STEM careers.
According to a recently released Westpac STEM Careers and Perceptions Report, you’d be wrong. The report has found that more than half (51 percent) of Australia’s Generation Z don’t think they’re capable of a STEM career and young women are less confident (48 percent) compared to their male peers (54 percent).
The fact that 77 percent of young Australians don’t know what the acronym, STEM, means adds further to the confusion.
Demystifying the acronym and increasing accessibility is exactly what Anastasia Cammaroto, Chief Information Officer for Westpac Consumer Division, wants to do: “I think there is a narrow perception that a career in science, technology, engineering, maths is always highly technical, but in actual fact the skills you learn in these disciplines open up a broad range of career opportunities, including working with technology, finance, food, fashion and travel. We know STEM skills are rapidly becoming more important in the future of the workforce, but I see a disconnect with the desire to embrace these skills, especially among young women.”
While no one wants to predict what jobs might exist in the future, futurists do identify the sorts of skills that will be in demand.
Work that requires relationship building skills (non-routine) and complex problem-solving skills (cognitive) is growing. The skills learnt in science, technology, engineering, maths and other problem-solving disciplines, such as economics, are a great fit with the needs of the future workforce.
However, many Australians, according to the Westpac report, are still grappling with what a career in STEM could look like: 40 percent of female workers don’t know what occupations would be considered work in STEM, and while men in the workforce are more likely to believe STEM skills are becoming increasingly important in their industry (79 percent compared with 68 percent) women are not.
Vogue Codes brings together technology, fashion and business names in a series of talks designed to get women thinking about work in new and innovative ways and to get an understanding of what STEM is and the importance of the skills in the future of work.
At the recent Sydney Vogue Codes industry event, held at Westpac in Barangaroo, the keynote from designer and fashion icon Karen Walker (above) brought her considered perspective to the topic of the digital revolution and the part it has played in her business success.
Like any revolution, the digital revolution, she says, has been “bloody and scary and brought about new norms”. It has, she believes, caused a paradigm shift - closing possibilities for some, while opening them for others.
Specifically, she referred to social media and small business and the opportunities the democratisation of access to audience and reach can provide.
The demand for content, as well as creativity around the production of content, to reach customers and to forge alliances with larger businesses for mutual benefit is providing a new area of work. More often than not, mining and analysing data for trends informs that work.
However, according to Karen, there is a negative side to the whole process: attaching KPIs to creativity can stifle the muse, channelling you toward what worked in the past and not toward future possibilities.
So, why are women shying away from doing science, maths, engineering, technology subjects at school and university and closing-down their opportunities in the workplace of the future?
According to Sue Thomson, Deputy CEO (Research) at Australian Council for Education Research, the lack of confidence and belief in maths ability in girls and young women is rooted in traditions about who should be doing STEM subjects and what are appropriate careers for women.
The Westpac report’s findings appear to substantiate her theory. For example: women are more likely than men to be influenced by their family (64 percent compared to 55 percent of men), and women are also more likely to be influenced by their sisters than their brothers. It’s a bit like being trapped in the algorithms of social media where, under the auspices of personalisation, we create silos for ourselves, imprisoned by our own comfort zones or, at least, what we know and understand.
Below: Attendees at Vogue Codes, Women's Markets Felicity Duffy, standing at left.