Future You FAQs
Who are we?
The Office of the Women in STEM Ambassador is an Australian Government initiative to address gender equity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
Led by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, the Office promotes awareness of STEM careers to young people, parents and carers, and works with educators to challenge gender stereotypes and promote inclusive and engaging STEM education for all.
We work with stakeholders across government, education and training, research and industry sectors to drive cultural and systemic change to institutions and workplaces that remove structural barriers and enable the full participation of women and girls in STEM education and careers.
In October 2018, the Australian Government appointed Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith as the inaugural Women in STEM Ambassador, a position outlined in the 2018-19 Budget as part of a $4.5 million package to encourage more women into STEM education and careers.
The Office is funded by a Commonwealth Grant and is hosted at the University of New South Wales. The work of the Office is closely aligned with the Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM Strategy and the Women in STEM Decadal Plan.
Why does the Future You initiative exist?
STEM-skilled jobs in Australia are growing at a fast pace and as many industries become increasingly reliant on technology, the need for STEM skills is becoming more widespread. Women are underrepresented in STEM education and careers, and face barriers at every stage of the ‘pipeline’, from school through to senior leadership positions. Girls and women’s underrepresentation in STEM must be addressed to ensure that Australia’s STEM-skilled workforce can meet the research, technology and innovation challenges of the future.
School-aged girls experience reduced confidence in STEM subjects, and uptake of STEM subjects by girls is low. This reduced participation in STEM directly impacts future education and career opportunities for girls. Research finds this is in part related to gender stereotypes, biases and poor understanding of how STEM subjects relate to exciting and rewarding STEM careers . Students with multiple, intersecting identities, for example, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander girls, may be left out of the STEM pipeline earlier than others .
Despite girls and boys scoring nearly the same in STEM subjects at younger ages, there is a belief held by girls, parents, peers and teachers, that girls aren’t as naturally good at STEM subjects and that boys are better at numeracy. These misconceptions and barriers have contributed to boys entering these subjects at higher levels, and girls experiencing lower levels of STEM confidence and higher levels of anxiety with respect to STEM .
To enable the full participation of women and girls from diverse backgrounds in STEM, Future You aims to:
- Raise awareness of exciting career possibilities and real-world applications of STEM skills
- Smash stereotypes about people working in STEM
Who is your target audience in this initiative?
Our primary audience is Australian girls and boys aged 8-12 years old.
Children begin to aspire to careers in early primary school, but they often disengage from STEM and are influenced by gender stereotypes as early as six years old . Research identifies the middle years (10 to 14) as the ages during which overall student interest in school begins to decline and the STEM gap between girls and boys widens . The perception that some STEM fields are a better fit for boys is one of the biggest barriers to girls participating and persisting in STEM. Therefore, our aim with our primary audience is to tackle stereotypes early.
Our secondary audience is:
- Australian parents and carers of children 8-12 years old,
- Individuals who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, are from regional or remote communities, are culturally and linguistically diverse or live with disability.
Future You characters represent diversity to provide relatable role models for all children to see a future for themselves in STEM.
Parents and carers play an important role in reinforcing or challenging stereotypes about career and study choices. We aim to help families support children’s confidence to choose STEM subjects and pursue STEM careers they might aspire to.
If you are targeting the increase of girls in STEM careers, why isn’t this initiative focused only on girls?
Girls often don’t pursue STEM because of stereotypes held by girls, parents, peers and teachers that they aren’t naturally as good at STEM subjects. Girls face additional barriers such as being excluded by boys who have a ‘policing the boundaries role’ about who belongs in STEM, especially in male-dominated careers like engineering .
Existing research finds that a positive view of STEM that includes and represents everyone is the most efficient approach . Therefore we need to change the perceptions and attitudes of girls’ families and peers who might reinforce existing stereotypes. Future You has 12 diverse and relatable characters who will help challenge stereotypes associated with the types of people working in STEM.
How do you make sure the Future You characters accurately represent people from different backgrounds? How are you reaching those audiences?
Future You features 12 diverse STEM characters who are based on consultations with stakeholders from different communities in our target audiences. We have also considered the best communication channels to reach individuals within the target audience who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, are from regional or remote communities, are culturally and linguistically diverse, are gender diverse or live with disability. These include channels such as Facebook, Instagram, Kids YouTube, Kidspot, News.com, PopJam kids’ social platform and a selection of other parenting websites.
What kind of stereotypes are you ‘smashing’?
We are challenging stereotypes about who can work in STEM, the types of STEM careers that exist, and the skills people need to be in a STEM career.
The Future You initiative challenges the stereotype of men scientists in white lab coats. The characters are diverse and wear clothes that are appropriate to their respective jobs. This is an important stereotype to challenge. Research finds most children identify science as a men’s profession. While children have become more likely to draw a woman when asked to draw a scientist, they still draw nearly twice as many men scientists than women ones. In several studies, when children were asked to draw a mathematician or scientist, boys almost universally drew men, often in a lab coat .
Future You characters also represent jobs that people may not think require STEM skills. This includes a farmer, a game designer, a Moon to Mars Mission Director and a nurse.
Moreover, Future You shows the problem-solving and social impact of STEM that often appeals to girls. The characters describe world challenges they tackle in their jobs. This showcases the potential of STEM careers to create social impact. The characters also highlight non-technical abilities such as problem-solving skills as crucial to their professions.
The character profiles, quiz and the skilled-based games will give children an idea of the real-life application of STEM skills and the diversity of people and professions that exists within STEM fields.
Who is funding this initiative?
Future You is funded through a $1.5 million Women in STEM National Awareness Raising Initiative, as part of the Australian Government’s Advancing Women in STEM strategy.
The character of Mirra, the Moon to Mars Mission Director is sponsored by the Australian Space Agency.
If you would like to collaborate or partner with us in any Future You activities, please contact us.
- Kerr, B and Kurpius, S (2004) ‘Encouraging talented girls in math and science: Effects of a guidance intervention’, High Ability Studies, 15(1): 85-102.
- Justman, M and Méndez, Susan J (2018) ‘Gendered choices of STEM subjects for matriculation are not driven by prior differences in mathematical achievement’, Economics of Education Review, Elsevier, 64(C):282-297.
- Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (2019) Advancing Women in STEM, Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources
- Aikens, K and Corrigan, D (2019) Barriers to participation in engineering and the value of interventions to improve diversity, Monash University
- Berwick, C (2019) ‘Keeping girls in STEM: 3 Barriers, 3 Solutions’, Edutopia