It is a lamentable and well-known fact that women are under-represented in the fields of engineering, technology, science, and mathematics.
These fields change the way we live – but they need more women and people of colour to help create new developments that serve all of society, not just a small segment.
Technological developments done without involving a diverse range of people can mean that biased technology develops – from health apps with no menstrual tracking features to artificial intelligence that doesn't recognise darker skin tones and more.
In AUT's Faculty of Design and Creative Technologies encouraging more women in these currently male-dominated fields is a core focus. Our women students, staff and alumni are playing key roles in these fields, and they are pulling other women up with them in a variety of ways.
Senior lecturer Dr Mahsa Mohaghegh is passionate about getting more women into STEM careers and advocates powerfully at every opportunity.
"We know girls get turned off STEM subjects early in their schooling – often around intermediate school (years seven and eight) age. Knowing this is why I spend so much time and energy, alongside my colleagues, to make STEM exciting, attractive and understood to a huge range of people of all ages."
AUT students, staff and academics promote STEM directly to young learners in events like the MOTAT STEM Fair and the Ministry of Education and NZTech Tech21 showcase. Over the last several years Dr Mohaghegh has received funding from the Google Education Fund to run the Computer Science for High School (CS4HS) workshop for high school and primary school teachers to learn new skills and take away 'ready to run' lesson plans for their students.
"CS4HS has been enormous success. It is incredibly heartening to work alongside teachers to help them upskill and provide practical support. We have teachers that come back every year and the community of supportive professional development, focused on building up our STEM teaching capability is wonderful. The introduction of the new digital curriculum has only made this more important."
AUT Women in Tech, led by Dr Mohaghegh, aims to encourage and support women studying in STEM (Science, Engineering, Technology, and Mathematics) courses by helping them develop networking skills and succeed in their field of study. Her team focus on bringing together driven women from different backgrounds and positions to form a tight community within the university and forge connections with women working in the industry.
"In 2021 we've launched two new initiatives – a mentoring programme for first year undergraduate and first year postgraduate tech students who are women, and a series of industry networking events.
"Fostering a sense of community for our students is one really important way we can help ensure they stay in the tech industry. Too often we hear stories about women leaving because they feel isolated or conditions don't meet their expectations. By connecting our students with academic and industry mentors we are giving them a head start in building their own networks of like-minded people across the industry."
The first industry networking event in April 2021 brought together women from the tech industry working at ANZ, Babcock, Johnstaff, and Mercury in a panel discussion led by Dr Mohaghegh.
"Being able to listen to and ask questions of professionals working in a range of organisations was hugely valuable for our students. We're really looking forward to running another session and continuing to foster connection for our students, alumni and industry partners," says Dr Mohaghegh.
Opportunities to talk to people already working in the tech industry is invaluable for students, says Dr Yvonne Chan, Director of Engagement for Design and Creative Technologies. "We know hearing firsthand from women working in tech is of great value to our students. During Techweek we were really excited to hold an industry speed mentoring and networking event for our students to connect to women working in digital/tech roles at Air New Zealand. The students and Air New Zealand women who attended found it very useful having meaningful conversations and we look forward to running more events."
Dr Chan also drove the Techweek TV panel discussion "The mutual value of universities and industry partnerships" which focused on the way partnerships can positively impact key initiatives such as equity opportunities for women, Maori and Pasifika in STEM fields, coupled with future-proofing the talent pipeline and driving innovation. This panel discussed how strategic partnerships between universities and industry can be equally beneficial and initiatives that have made a significant impact to achieve mutual objectives and social impact.