​Australia gets Women in STEM Ambassador in astrophysicist professor

Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith has been appointed as Australia's first Women in STEM Ambassador.

The federal government has announced the appointment of Australia's first Women in STEM Ambassador, with Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith charged with overseeing the country's attempt to diversify its science, technology, engineering, and mathematics sectors.

An astrophysicist professor, Harvey-Smith will specifically advocate for girls and women in STEM education and careers, aiming also to raise awareness in the male-dominated industry and drive cultural and social change for gender equity.

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"If we can increase participation in STEM by girls and women, we will strengthen Australia's research, scientific and business capability," Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said in a statement.

"The Women in STEM Ambassador role will complement existing work and activities that are driving greater gender equity in science, both government and sector-led."

The Women in STEM Ambassador is funded under the 2018-19 federal Budget, with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science allocated AU$4.5 million over four years under the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan to formulate a Women in Science Strategy to develop and distribute STEM Choices resources kits to school-age girls, develop a decade-long plan for women in science, and provide a roadmap for sustained increases in women's STEM participation, in addition to fund the Ambassador role.

The funding being allocated to the department is AU$1.8 million in 2018-19, AU$1.1 million in 2019-20, AU$800,000 in 2020-21, and AU$800,000 in 2021-22.

"A Women in Science Ambassador will encourage girls' participation in STEM subjects, while the 10-year Plan for Women in Science will set out a long-term strategy for increasing female involvement in STEM education and careers," the government explained at the time.

The federal government last month started the development of the 10-year plan aimed at ushering more women into STEM-related roles, publishing a discussion paper asking for help on how exactly it is going to make it happen.

It is hoped by the government that the 10-year plan will develop recommendations and pathways to remove barriers to women's participation and progression in STEM at every stage.

It asks eight questions of respondents, including asking what changes need to occur to enable more girls and women to participate in STEM education at any level.

It also asks what the most effective way to change inaccurate stereotypes about STEM professionals and the range of STEM careers.

Harvey-Smith holds a PhD in radio astronomy from Jodrell Bank Observatory at the University of Manchester and a masters degree in physics with honours in astronomy and astrophysics from the University of Newcastle‑upon‑Tyne.

In her previous role she led a research group at CSIRO's Australia telescope national facility and her research has been published in more than 40 refereed scientific papers.

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