​LifeJourney launches Australian Women in STEM initiative

The third initiative from the US-based company's Australian Day of STEM program is aimed at encouraging young women into tech-based careers.

LifeJourney International has launched its Women in STEM initiative, aiming to spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) in young women in year seven through to university in Australia.

Women in STEM comes with the backing of six of the country's female tech industry heavyweights who act as virtual mentors and share their personal career journeys through the online program.

Encouraging young women to pursue STEM-focused careers are Tzipi Avioz, IT director customer solutions & New Zealand, AMP; Vanessa Sulikowski, senior cloud architect, Cisco Systems Australia New Zealand; Sonia Haque, consulting technology director, Deloitte Australia; Anelo Cournut, chief wellness officer, Johnson & Johnson Medical Devices; Sandra Hogan, data analytics specialist, SAS Australia New Zealand; and Anastasia Cammaroto, chief information officer, BT Financial Group.

Previously, Cammaroto told ZDNet it is important for tech leaders to be involved in initiatives like Women of STEM to "pay it forward" to the next generation.

"If you've been privileged enough to have had a fascinating career in this field then you've absolutely got the responsibility to be able to share what that looks like," she said.

"I do think we need to debunk a lot of the myths that surround the technology industry, that surround science and maths particularly for girls and I am particularly passionate about that. There are so many elements where we can definitely pull together to influence young people around this space."

The online platform allows young women to explore what it is like to have a career in fields such as big data, banking, consulting, medical technology, information technology, and wealth management.

Moving though the platform, the students are introduced to their mentors and are then shown what their usual work day consists of. It then continues to ask questions of the students about the future they see themselves having by allowing them to shortlist their future resume, then being shown the skills they will need to get there.

The program is also backed by the likes of Australian Association of Mathematics Teachers, and the Australian Computer Society, as well as an education advisory board to ensure the content stays relevant to the Australian market.

According to the Australian government, 55 percent of STEM graduates are female, but only one in four IT graduates and one in 10 engineering graduates are women. Women also occupy fewer than one in five senior researcher positions in Australian universities and research institutes, and are less than half the overall STEM workforce.

The Australian Office of the Chief Scientist released a report last year that detailed similar inequalities.

As of 2011, there were 2.3 million people in Australia with qualifications in STEM-based fields -- approximately 10 percent of the population -- however the report found that fewer than one-third of STEM university graduates were female, with physics, astronomy, and engineering having even lower proportions of female graduates.

As well as the gender imbalance in some STEM fields was the pay gap between men and women in all STEM fields, with the report highlighting that the differences could not be fully explained by having children or by the increased proportion of women working part-time.

Women in STEM is the third program run by LifeJourney's Australia-based Day of STEM initiative, with the first -- The STEM Cup -- kicking off in July last year.

In partnership with Collingwood Football Club and La Trobe University, the STEM Cup saw students explore mathematics in sport, via the Internet of Things with Cisco, big data analytics with SAS, and Collingwood's "Capologist" -- the fictitious name of the individual in charge of recruiting players and keeping under the AU$2 million salary cap.

In September, Day of STEM launched Australia 2020, which saw a similar online program to Women in STEM, but focused on youngsters from both genders.

Previously, Tom Reich, executive director at LifeJourney International, said the idea behind both programs is about showing kids how what they are being taught in the classroom relates to the real world.

"Kids need pathways, kids need inspiration, they need to understand why they're being taught what they are in the classroom and what potential careers that leads to -- rather than just STEM for STEM sake," he said.

"Make them aware of what the jobs are, but we also have to do it in an inspiring way -- you have to jazz it up.

"We make them aware, we get them inspired, and then we show them the journey. We're effectively reverse engineering the mentors, their skills, the journey they took, and we put them on the platform."