Ladies and gentlemen, it’s terrific to join you here this evening for this prestigious celebration of science excellence and achievement, exemplified by the newly minted L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellows. And even more than that, it’s a celebration of women in science: women scientists everywhere pursuing their disciplines, the women on whose shoulders they stand, and the women and girls yet to step up.
Twenty years ago, two global organisations got together to tackle a global issue – the critical importance to the planet and every nation of ensuring that women are participating alongside men in every aspect of science learning, research, discovery and development. I wish I could say that after two decades of the remarkable L’Oréal-UNESCO international effort, the significant under representation of women in science is no longer.
But – I can say that every time we shine a light on the capabilities and achievements of girls and women, from prep and primary school, through to the highest ranks of science, whether in academia, industry, business or government, we’re one step closer to bridging science’s gap in human capital and optimising its vast potential for new ideas and knowledge.
As an engineer myself, and as one of only two women in my graduating year—I know very well:
- the excitement and satisfaction of getting stuck into an area of STEM you love; and
- the astonishing absence of women from the STEM fields, then, and still now.
This year saw two women, Professors Frances Arnold and Donna Strickland, awarded a Nobel prize – one in chemistry, the other in physics. Absolutely a cause for great celebration worldwide.
But let’s remember that of the 607 science Nobel Laureates since 1901, only 20 have been women. And if we go from Nobel Laureates to STEM workers, the Chief Scientist reported in 2016 that Australian women make up less than 16 per cent. And yet we also know that by 2030, workers will spend 77 percent more time using science and maths skills, and employment in STEM occupations is projected to grow at twice the pace of others.
So, with the demand for STEM know-how never higher than now, and fast on the rise, women have to be part of the solution. If women are missing out, Australia and our close friend and neighbour, New Zealand, are missing out too.
The L’Oréal-UNESCO Australia and New Zealand fellowships, launched in 2007, acknowledge this fundamental problem, and aim to make a practical, tangible difference to women in their science careers where they find support otherwise lacking. It’s about ensuring that women get the assistance they need to undertake their research, further their research, explore the opportunities for its application – making sure that women scientists stay on their career path, fulfilling their aspirations.
And so important as well is what the L’Oréal-UNESCO Fellows give back. The stories and experiences and knowledge they share with female high school students through the Girls in Science program. And since last year, their involvement as mentors in the mentoring program for female doctoral candidates.
What this says, loud and clear, is that beyond the significant value to the Fellows themselves, their research and their careers, the L’Oréal-UNESCO fellowships allow the Fellows to be a positive influence for all those could-be and hopefully will-be! Women and girls striving for STEM careers in coming years and decades.
The greatest influence comes from what each Fellow uniquely models – her commitment to her discipline, her passion and drive for her research, how she thinks and problem-solves, how she works with her colleagues, how she lives and gets the most from the rest of her life.
Role models are a powerful, personal and energising force. The Fellows show other women and girls what they can be. And they’re also incredibly important in disrupting and rejecting old stereotypes that have for so long limited or prevented women’s progression in the science disciplines.
We need to embrace every version, every different role model of women in science, every special inspiration that strikes a chord – no more stereotypes, only endless possibilities. As the Minister for Industry, Science, and Technology, and as a lifelong woman in STEM, this is a heart and head-felt mission of mine. We know that STEM is the engine of technology, innovation and wealth. We know that gender-diverse teams are better problem solvers.
How many times have we all said over the last five, ten, twenty, thirty years – it’s time to get on with this? Without women on board, we’re losing time and opportunities. We must keep working for gender equality and individual opportunity, in science and of course in every other endeavour across our society. And we must make sure we’re strengthening our country’s science and broader STEM capabilities, applying our combined human intellect and skill to our big challenges, and growing our workforce and economy.
Since the Coalition Government launched its National Innovation and Science Agenda in 2015, a range of measures worth more than $13 million were introduced to encourage more women and girls to study in STEM fields, and to pursue STEM research, careers, start-ups and businesses.
We are seeing some impressive outcomes from our Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship, or WISE program, and the Entrepreneurs’ Programme too. We’ve extended funding for the hugely successful Superstars of STEM initiative that supports female role models.
And now, following this year’s budget, the Coalition Government has committed a further $4.5 million over 4 years to maintain the momentum. We are developing a Women in STEM Strategy to help coordinate our efforts to increase girls and women’s participation in STEM studies and careers.
I’ve appointed award-winning astrophysicist and science communicator, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, as Australia’s inaugural Women in STEM Ambassador. We’re developing a Girls in STEM Toolkit for school-age girls. And, with the Australian Academy of Science at the lead, a Decadal Plan for Women in STEM is underway.
The Coalition is right here at the centre of making change happen for women in science, and women in the STEM sector. With my department, I want to champion these initiatives, because I know investing in science and technology – and women’s roles in these sectors – boosts productivity and leads to more and better paying jobs. We know that 75 per cent of the jobs of the future will involve science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills – and we know the importance of gender-diverse workplaces.
And I take very seriously my engagement with all those in the sector, including everyone here, working towards the same goals. I commend L’Oréal-UNESCO’s long-term commitment to nurturing women in science through its fellowship program. And I congratulate the 2019 Australian and New Zealand Fellows on their selection.
I wish you every success, fulfilment and reward in your science careers as you carry the torch for the next generation of women and girls in science.