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Women in tech

Girl Geek Academy’s Sarah Moran says the federal government needs to act for women in STEM funding

- February 15, 2023 3 MIN READ
Geek Girl Academy STEM
Girl Geek Academy founders Sarah Moran, Lisy Kane, April Staines, Tammy Butow and Amanda Watts
The federal government won’t release new funding till its Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review is complete by the end of this year, but Girl Geek Academy (GGA) cofounder Sarah Moran says that’s too long a wait for funding new programs. 

The Academy is calling for swift action to support women in STEM careers. 

“With Women in STEM programs under review for most of this year, we currently don’t anticipate any new funding commitments until 2024,” Moran said.

“The government’s third year in office is far too late to wait; we need action now.”

While Girl Geek Academy supports the review of Women in STEM programs, hoping it will increase funding in the long run, Moran said the short-term reality is that women and girls are being left behind. 

“We’re calling for a solid investment in programs for the May budget to secure much-needed support for women in the industry to ‘lift as we climb’ – we desperately need to bring young girls through the pipeline,” she said. 

Last November, industry and science minister Ed Husic announced that Cicada Innovations CEO Sally-Ann Williams would lead a panel looking into diversity and ways to improve the participation of women in in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)

STEM

Gender disparity in STEM continues to exist globally.

Deloitte released a report for SBE Australia revealing that 22% of Australian startups are founded by women, but only 0.7% of funding went to solely women-founded companies in FY22.

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source: Deloitte report

The UN reports that only 28% of engineering graduates and 40% of computer science and informatics graduates are women.

Gender equality and empowering women and girls is a key aspiration of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The Deloitte study found that the disparity in funding is not attributed to potential investment returns or business fundamentals but rather embedded gender bias.

The practice of pattern-matching— where investors match how similar a prospective opportunity is to past ones—needs to be overcome to increase investment in women-founded businesses. Shifting the dial in funding requires structural and behavioral change.

Girl Geek Academy is a movement to bring one million women and girls into technology careers by 2030.

They have trained over 1000 high school girls in A.I. in virtual classes without government support, Moran was hopeful that a change of government would bring about fresh funding to support the growth of similar programs. GGA successfully received the inaugural Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants in 2016. 

“We used this funding to build the successful #MissMakesCode program and teach 1000 teachers to teach coding in the classroom. Over the past seven years, there have only been four rounds of this funding deployed. That’s simply not enough,” Moran said.

While the October 2022 budget allocated $5.8 million over five years towards the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship program, it simultaneously cut $3.9 million over two years from the Supporting Women’s Mid-Career Transition into the Tech Workforce under the 2022-2023 March Budget. 

Moran said there has been a drought of these types of programs as most organisations, typically run by women, did not survive the impacts of the pandemic. 

“Girl Geek Academy lost 99.9% of our cash flow overnight when COVID hit, and the only reason we still exist is because I went and got a day job to keep us alive,” she said


One of the lessons from “Girl Geek Academy – A.I. High” they ran during lockdown.

“We‘re not getting even the emotional support from the government to keep going. It’s like, if the government doesn’t care, why should we?”

The call for action comes just weeks away from International Women’s Day on March 8.

“This year’s international women’s day theme is ‘cracking the code: innovation for a gender equal future. So if any of those ministers want to turn up to any International Women’s Day event, including the prime minister, and not back it up with new funding, then they are actually worse than the last government because they won’t have anything new,” Moran said

“We need more than words and cupcakes this year; we need the government to have our back so we can all ‘Crack The Code’ on gender equality together.”

In response, federal science minister Ed Husic’s office, said the government is continuing existing initiatives that support women in STEM.

A spokesperson for the Minister pointed $15.9 million in grants for 17 women in STEM announced last month, and entrepreneurship projects through the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship Grants program.

“The government is also continuing to work with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) on Elevate, the Government’s $41.2 million scholarship program, as well as with the Women in STEM Ambassador to drive cultural change,” they said.

“The government recognises the need to continue supporting initiatives that address gender inequity in STEM while the review is underway. Existing programs are continuing while the review progresses.”

They said the review will evaluate those programs to consider their effectiveness and impact and provide the government with recommendations on reforming or broadening the measures.

“We encourage all those working towards greater gender equity (and diversity more broadly) in STEM to engage with the review and sign up for updates at industry.gov.au/science-technology-and-innovation/diversity-stem-review,” the spokesperson said.

The review’s recommendations are scheduled to be handed to the government in October.

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