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[Event Summary] Australia-Korea Webinar on Women in STEM


Role models and international exchanges can help make a difference: Australian and Korean experts discuss Women in STEM


Female STEM professionals from Australia and South Korea gathered virtually on 11 May 2021 to discuss the challenges that women face in the fields of science, engineering, technology, and mathematics and to explore the role that cross-border connections can play in achieving change.


The webinar was hosted by the Australian Embassy in Seoul and the Korean Center for Women in Science, Engineering, and Technology (WISET), with the support of the Korea Australia Researcher Network (KARN).


H.E. Ms Catherine Raper, the Australian Ambassador to the Republic of Korea, opened the webinar, noting its contribution to the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Australia and Korea. Pointing out the growing education, science, and research exchanges between the two countries, she urged participants to look for cross-border opportunities in STEM and “small ways we can help achieve change.”


The speakers made a case for having more women in STEM, arguing that it had not only moral but economic benefits.


“STEM sectors contribute hundreds of billions of dollars to Australia’s economy,” said Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, Australia’s Women in STEM Ambassador. “But women only make up 17 per cent of STEM qualified people. If just 1 per cent of Australian women train into STEM, we would add billions of dollars to our economy.”


Dr. Ahn Hye-yeon, President of WISET, a public body dedicated to gender equity in STEM under Korea’s Ministry of Science and ICT, mentioned Korea’s low birthrate and shrinking labor force, pointing out that having more women in STEM would “help ease Korea’s shortage of skilled scientists and engineers.”


Then how can we inspire more women and girls into STEM? The speakers were all clear about one important factor: having positive role models.


“The most effective way to attract female students to STEM is to inspire them through a success story,” Dr. Ahn said. To that end, WISET last month launched W-Bridge, a lifelong career guidance platform to support women and girls in their STEM journey.


Professor Harvey-Smith said her office started a campaign called Future You, an online animated website for children aged 8 to 12 to help girls explore a range of STEM careers.


One of the discussants, Ms. Jade Bujeya, who is studying for a Master of Data Science at La Trobe University in Melbourne, shared her personal experience of growing up with very few female STEM teachers and how misrepresentations in popular culture had distorted the perception of women in STEM, driving girls away from what could be a rewarding profession. “Providing these positive role models to young women would really help them believe this is something they can do and be successful in,” she said.


Women in STEM also need to take on more leadership roles, and that’s where mentorship and networking can help.

To address the sharp drop in the number of women in STEM as they go up the career ladder, Dr. Ahn said WISET started connecting mid-level female workers with female senior executives in various STEM sectors.


Another discussant, Dr. Lee Myung Sun, Director of Ewha Institute for Leadership Development, shared the example of Ewha-Luce International Seminar (ELIS), a program that helps female STEM graduate students from Asia and the U.S. develop leadership skills.


The speakers said there were plenty of opportunities for cross-border collaborations in STEM.  


Professor Harvey-Smith highlighted the Square Kilometre Array (SKA) project, an intergovernmental effort to build the world’s largest radio telescope in Australia and South Africa by 2027. She mentioned Korea as an important partner country and said “there will be many opportunities for us to share our expertise and have more women trained into STEM.”


Ms. Bujeya, who studied at Sogang University in Seoul as an Australian Government New Colombo Plan Scholar in 2019 and interned at the Korean Centre for Artificial Photosynthesis, encouraged young women thinking about a career in STEM to reach out to universities and look into government scholarships, adding that study abroad programs are more feasible than they appear.


Both female and male researchers can join KARN, a free platform that shares information and facilitates links between researchers from Australia and Korea. In addition, the Australian Academy of Science STEM Women database is an excellent resource profiling women with science, technology, engineering and mathematics skills.