Go WEST - Supporting Women in Engineering, Science and Technology: An Australian Higher Education Case Study

Go WEST - Supporting Women in Engineering, Science and Technology: An Australian Higher Education Case Study

Jacquie McDonald (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Birgit Loch (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Aileen Cater-Steel (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-61520-657-5.ch006
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Australia appears to be lagging behind countries in North America and Europe regarding the participation of women in engineering, science and technology courses and careers. This chapter reports on a current project undertaken by a regional university to build a mentoring and support network among female Science, Engineering and Technology students, staff and industry professionals. As well as the context and history of the project, the chapter describes the activities undertaken and the challenges faced in making the project sustainable. Factors critical to the success of the project are identified and include securing funds and commitment from senior management, having a multi-disciplinary team with strong leadership and effective support, and using information technology to enhance personal networks and to promote activities.
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While many studies report that women are under-represented in SET areas in the developed world (Osborne et al., 2000), a comparison of four countries appears to indicate that female participation in Australia is at the lower end of that scale (Office for Women, 2006). For instance, where in 2005 the percentage of female professional engineers in the United States was 10 percent, in the United Kingdom 9 percent and in Canada 8 percent, it was only about 5 percent in Australia. The same paper reports that a quarter of the Bachelor in Information Technology (IT) graduates in Australia were female in 2003, compared to 28 percent across America in 2001-2002. In the UK, more than a quarter of postgraduate computer science degrees were completed by women and in Canada 28 percent of computer and information systems professionals were female in the year 2000. As noted in the following paragraph, not much improvement has been recorded.

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