Recap of Fifty50s Big Ideas Breakfast3 – Sarah Andrew

Gender Equity in STEM by 2025 is the goal proposed to participants of Fifty50’s Big Ideas Breakfast, which was held on the 10th August 2017 at Old Parliament House in Canberra. Breakfast participants came from every sector – from university academics, to Partners of large corporations, to local and Federal government. This event facilitated discussion regarding the pace of change for gender equity, which is currently predicted to occur concurrently with economic equality in 2186. At Fifty50, we think there are a few things that organisations, companies, and even YOU can do to help speed up the process!

In 2016 the Office of the Chief Scientist released a report on the state of STEM in Australia. Follow up publications focussed on Women in STEM reported that only 7% of engineers in Australia are female. And while some other STEM disciplines have an equal distribution of male and female graduates, in contrast only 1 in 4 IT graduates are female. Though postgraduate and junior positions are almost equally held by women and men, only 20.6% of senior professors are women. And when it comes to pay, 32% of men fall into the highest income bracket, compared with only 12% of women in the latest census. Such large gender imbalances suggest that Australia, and the world; is missing out on countless physical discoveries and innovative products, all because it is failing to take full advantage of the scientific brainpower of half of its population.

Caption: The STEM Pipeline

We still have a lot of work to do. And with this in mind, Kevin Keith opened the panel discussion with the question: “Who doesn’t think STEM is a good thing?”

The good news is, we’re starting to see more studies addressing the gender gap in STEM that will help us build more equitable environment in STEM. By creating benchmarks and tracking progress, we can plan accordingly. Women in Science initiatives such as the SAGE pilot, Women in STEM grants and awards, plus seminars and workshops addressing unconscious bias in the workplace ensures the conversation reaches a broader audience to ensure people in positions of power are aware of their privilege and are holding out a hand to lift the people up that are left behind.

Considering these steps towards a diverse and equitable future for STEM, our star-packed panel was led by GovHack Director Kevin Keith who asked some hard hitting questions about gender equity in STEM. Our panel consisted of ANU Fifty50 co-founder Emily Campbell, Science and Technology Australia CEO Dr Kylie Walker, Non-Executive Chair of Arup partnerships Professor Robert F Care AM and Swinburne University of Technology’s Director of STEM Transformation Dr Llew Mann; who contributed to a very honest conversation about how we can change ourselves and our workplaces. Here are some of the primary themes that came out of the Fifty50 Big Ideas Breakfast.

Fifty50 Big Ideas breakfast panel: (L-R) Dr Llew Mann, Dr Kylie Walker, Emily Campbell, Professor Robert F. Care, with moderator Kevin Keith.

Mentoring and sponsorship of people to inspire change

The most prominent theme that came out of our panel discussion was the lack of encouragement or sponsorship for women in STEM. Recent research has shown that girls are discouraged from pursuing maths and science from as early as kindergarten, we need to recognise that gender equity is a complex societal issue and bias is entrenched into us from a crucial age and take action to actively support women in STEM.

“Everybody should be encouraging young people to pursue their chosen careers” – Emily Campbell.

CEO’s, Vice Chancellors, Directors and Department Heads should be held accountable for their leadership, studies have previously shown that “like promotes like” and that more care should be taken to promote people that encourage diversity. But how do we break the system or challenge the system to increase representation for females in STEM – especially engineering? By taking personal responsibility to create future prospects for ourselves and for others, we can create opportunities to advance a juniors career by just being a mentor or sponsor.

Visibility and Role Models

Another recurring theme throughout the morning was initially touched on by STA CEO Dr Kylie Walker, who commented on the lack of visible role models for children when she discovered that young children’s books conventionally do not cater for young girls in STEM. The lack of diverse role models reinforces the inequality and lack of diversity in STEM and as mentioned above, gender biases in clothing, books and even toys for children show a long-standing cultural problem that needs to change.

“We need to rebrand and rethink what STEM is about” – Dr Llew Mann.

An initiative moving to change the perception of Women in STEM in the media is the Superstars of STEM program, which includes Fifty50’s own co-founder Francesca Maclean; which aspires to smash science gender stereotypes by equipping STEM women with advanced communication skills and providing a platform to use them. Our own Fifty50 series of Role Models interviews also aims to create a space in the media for a range of women in STEM to highlight their struggles and achievements. By generating diverse role models and creating a platform for women (and women-identifying persons) in STEM to endorse their visibility consequentially abolishing some of the unconscious bias surrounding women in STEM.

Where do we go from here?

It’s not easy. Our panel members acknowledged that we don’t have all of the answers. But the seventy-three strong participants in the Fifty50 by 2025 Big Ideas Breakfast left inspired and with a personal responsibility to create a positive change in their workplace. To extend the discussion beyond the breakfast, participants were tasked with creating action items plans, detailing how they will help us reach gender equity in STEM by 2025.


“What’s the message? Fifty50 by2025”Dr Kylie Walker

The action items published so far include small steps and large leaps, such as taking a junior female colleague out for coffee to discuss their career goals, to working with the Diversity and Inclusion committee, board and management to ensure at least a 40% representation of women across departments in the company. Even the increasing amount of data regarding the gender gap in STEM is an important achievement as data can be essential for setting benchmarks and emphasizing areas for improvement. Fifty50 hopes that the Big Breakfast Action Items can help shape a more inclusive and diverse STEM workplace and break the gender stereotypes surrounding women in STEM.


This event marked an important step for the STEM community to tackle gender-based discrimination and the presence of industry, research and political leaders spoke to a mutual desire to create an environment where equal opportunities for women are a reality. Of the many actions, plans and collaborations that were discussed during the event, Fifty50 is confident that positive change is happening and that we are on the path to achieve gender equity in STEM by 2025.


A big thank you to the Fifty50 committee members who made this event happen.

Further reading