The Hon. D.G.E. HOOD (14:50): My question is to the Minister for Human Services about supporting South Australian women and girls. Can the minister please update the chamber about the launch of an initiative to encourage girls into and support women in STEM careers?
The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (Minister for Human Services) (14:50): I thank the honourable member for his question and for his interest in this area, knowing that he is the father of a daughter who is 12.
This was a very important event that some of us were privileged to attend on 25 June at the South Australian Museum. Indeed, my colleague the Minister for Education, the Hon. John Gardner, and Ms Katrine Hildyard, member for Reynell, attended. The Commissioner for Equal Opportunity was there in attendance, as well as the Chief Scientist, Professor Caroline McMillen; Jim Whalley, the Chief Entrepreneur; and Dr Eva Balan-Vnuk, who is the chair and founder of HerTechPath, which has a significant role in terms of technology on behalf of the South Australian government.
Research has shown that girls and boys have equal interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics in their early school years; however, a lack of female role models begins to turn girls off STEM in later years. Education, experience, stereotypes and encouragement from parents all help to shape differences that are often labelled inborn. Young people's belief in the importance of STEM is also influenced by the opinions of their friends and other members of their community.
Women currently occupy less than 20 per cent of positions in the majority of ICT occupations. It's clear that businesses looking to grow should seriously start to think about the availability of quality female candidates to them. Initiatives to attract and retain women to study tech and work are key if we are to make the most of their amazing talents. While women are under-represented in the higher paid sectors, this does not correlate with their use of technology. For example, women comprise 47 per cent of Australians who play video games but only 8.7 per cent of those are employed within that industry.
Women are also major consumers of technology, particularly social media. A national survey of 1,500 people conducted by Westpac in January 2013 found that nearly half of women said they could not live without social media compared with about 22 per cent of men who felt the same way. More than three out of four women said that technology had made it easier to save time and money, manage finances and connect with others. It's clear that women can and do develop the skills and knowledge required to use and embrace technology. This is the issue that HerTechPath is seeking to address.
In recognising that 'you can't be what you can't see' HerTechPath supports young women and the people who influence them to see the possibilities and many career options that technology provides. To take advantage of these opportunities, we need to encourage girls and young women interested in believing that they can learn and work in tech fields. HerTechPath is very much in that space. They have recruited a committee of a number of women who work in technology in some very senior roles and they are engaged in going to schools and speaking to schools to encourage young women and girls to think about this as a particular pathway.
On speaking to some of the people who had been there, one of the guest speakers highlighted the fact that having had HerTechPath attend her school—actually, it might have been one of the speakers—the reporting from the students was that it had not been particularly on a number of students' radar prior but, having had a presentation, something like 95 per cent of the students, certainly an overwhelming number, were very interested in engaging in STEM as a possible career.
I would like to thank particularly Dr Balan-Vnuk, who has driven this particular initiative, and her wonderful committee members. People can join the organisation, which will enable them to attend networking events if they work in that field, and then they can participate as well as volunteers going to schools to speak to them about this very important initiative and to encourage our South Australian young women to get involved in STEM as a possible career path.