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More support required for young women to feel confident in STEM subjects

New research reveals only 7.6 percent of New Zealand women feel empowered to pursue a career in Science, Technology, Engineering or Maths (STEM) – barely one in thirteen women. 

While more younger women feel STEM is a career option (21%), one in ten New Zealand girls still feel pressure to choose a career “more fitting for a woman.” 

Commissioned by Sunsilk as part of its Rethink Pink campaign, the research also shows the most important influence on a young woman is her mother. But New Zealand mums feel largely unequipped to support their daughters when it comes to STEM subjects, with only one in twelve (7.8%) having a strong understanding and knowledge of STEM subjects.

Natalie Buckley, Research and Development Director, Sunsilk ANZ says the research shows that more support is required for young women to feel confident that STEM subjects are for them. 

“What we see is that a lack of role models leads to a substantial drop-off in the participation of young girls in STEM study,” says Buckley. 

After mothers (68.3%), secondary influences on young New Zealand women aged 16-25 are female social influencers (36.6%), followed by their sisters (32.2%). 

The platforms this age group turns to for female inspiration are Instagram (64.4%), YouTube (44%) and Facebook (42%). 

“As New Zealand and the world increasingly rely on science, technology, engineering and maths, we need to ensure our digital creations, platforms and systems reflect the preferences of our whole population,” says Buckley.

“We need New Zealand women from a variety of backgrounds to contribute and feel they are a part of this creative process – for themselves and for the rest of us, too.” 

To address the imbalance in STEM learning and careers, the majority of women surveyed feel that education and training, greater female empowerment and more nurturing of self-confidence are the most important changes needed in Aotearoa. 

Fewer women pursuing STEM at tertiary level 

The study also reveals that 58.5% of girls aged 16-25 believe there is a gender imbalance in STEM in New Zealand – both in schools and outside of them. This imbalance is reflected in tertiary study choices, with female 

STEM study dropping off from 41.5% in Year 12 to only 19.8% in higher (tertiary) education. This dramatically drops after undergraduate study, with only 4.6% and 2.4% of women studying STEM at a postgraduate and Masters/PhD respectively. 

Despite the low numbers participating, 80% of women surveyed think STEM careers will be of increasing importance in the future. 

STEM programme for mothers and daughters 

Sunsilk is launching its ‘Rethink Pink’ campaign, partnering with social enterprise, Girl Geek Academy to deliver a series of interactive online workshops in September and October 2021. 

Free to join, participants will explore the science of hair, use tech to code a mother-daughter videogame, engineer their own shampoo bottle and use real world maths to “rethink pink” and smash gender stereotypes. 

Girl Geek Academy Co-Founder Sarah Moran says: “Girl Geek Academy is on a mission to teach one million women technology skills by 2025. We are building a future where women play a crucial role in developing innovations and solutions that ultimately shape lives; our partnership with Sunsilk is another step toward that.” 

Sunsilk invites girls and mums to visit girlgeekacademy.com and register their attendance for the Sunsilk x Girl Geek Academy STEM School Holiday Workshops. The workshops will be streamed live on YouTube, the second most-popular streaming service for girls, at 4:30pm on: 

  • Week 1
    • Science: Tuesday 21 September
    • Technology: Thursday 23 September

  • Week 2
    • Engineering: Tuesday 28 September
    • Maths: Thursday 30 September

  • Week 3 (NZ school holidays)
    • Science: Tuesday 5 October
    • Engineering: Thursday 7 October

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