Article by Lucia Osborne-Crowley, Women’s Agenda
BHP Billiton has announced a $22 million partnership with the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute to encourage women and girls to study maths.
BHP’s support will fund a new program, based at the University of Melbourne and called Choose Maths, which will aim to raise awareness about the opportunities afforded to girls by studying and pursuing a career in mathematics.
The program will include professional development for teachers in 120 schools, a national ‘women in maths’ awareness campaign and financial support and scholarships for women studying maths.
The $22 million will be provided by the BHP Billiton Foundation over five years.
BHP’s CEO Andrew Mackenzie launched the partnership and the program with AMSI Director Geoff Price and Senator Scott Ryan at the University of Melbourne.
Mackenzie said the program aims to change the perception that girls are less suited to maths and other STEM subjects than their male colleagues.
“Australian industry knows that STEM professionals are vital to our future prosperity, national productivity andglobal competitiveness. For the resources industry this is especially true,” he said.
“BHP Billiton employs 123,000 people worldwide, many of them STEM professionals, so we share the responsibility to make sure there is a pipeline of young people who choose to study STEM subjects.”
“Any increase in STEM participation is good news but an increase in female representation is especially valuable because of the undeniable benefits of diversity.”
Mackenzie also said BHP is pleased to be partnering with AMSI to develop the program.
“AMSI is a leader in the field of mathematics and I’m proud that we’re partnering in the development of this targeted and holistic program to address the gender dynamic in the teaching and learning of maths.”
AMSI Director Geoff Price said the move to support girls and women in studying maths is crucial.
“The low participation of girls and women in the study of the mathematical sciences and in the quantitative professions is a significant national social and economic challenge,” he said.
Price also said it is time for women and girls to be able to “share equally in the rewarding careers and rich life experiences that mathematics offers”.
Australia falls behind other developed countries when it comes to girls’ education in STEM subjects, and this trend begins as early as high school. Only 7% of Australian girls study maths at an advanced level in their final year of secondary school. The number of female maths graduates at university level are only one third of the OECD’s average.
In a study conducted in 2006, 46% indicated they expected to pursue a career in STEM fields. The figure for girls? Only 8%.
Women continue to be underrepresented not only in STEM education, but in STEM careers as well.
This underrepresentation is a result of a number of compounding factors discouraging women from studying and pursuing maths and science, among them the perceptions that BHP’s new program is determined to address. This commitment, as well as a significant level of funding, will hopefully make a difference to many girls who dream of careers in maths and science.