Adore Beauty has recently established a scholarship aimed at encouraging young women to consider careers in a traditionally male-dominated industry: STEM, or science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
At first glance, it’s a strange fit for the online retailer, but Adore Beauty founder and CEO Kate Morris makes the case for closing the gender gap in Australia’s STEM workforce, where only 16 per cent of qualified graduates are female.
“I studied computer science at school and did some subjects at uni and I found them to be of tremendous value. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not allowed anywhere near our code now, but understanding how technology works is really beneficial. I want women to be a part of that,” Morris told IRW.
“Trying to get more women into STEM careers, not just studying it at school but careers, is something I’m quite passionate about,” she said.
The aim of the scholarship, which includes $2,000 for tuition fees as well as a month-long paid internship at Adore Beauty, is to change the perception that a career in STEM means working in “a really bloke-y environment”.
“Every business nowadays has a significant technology aspect to it. In retail, where women are making 85 per cent of purchasing decisions, women who study STEM will be well equipped to do well and contribute value,” she said.
To apply for Adore Beauty’s scholarship, students must be in their second or third year at an Australian university, be studying computer science or taking a computer science module as part of another course and identify as female. Applications close on 10 September for 2018.
Breaking the norms
Jade Collins, co-founder of Femeconomy, a website that encourages people to shop brands that are 50 per cent female-owned or have 30 per cent female boards, agrees that the gender gap in Australia’s STEM workforce has a significant impact on the retail industry.
“If women are not adequately represented equally in STEM fields, it means that those who are solving for customer problems don’t represent the customer base and therefore don’t necessarily understand their needs or motivations very well,” she told IRW.
According to Collins, the lack of prominent female role models is one of the biggest barriers preventing women from choosing to study STEM subjects.
“We have interviewed many female leaders who are CEOs and founders of technology companies, to increase their profile and show girls it’s possible for women to reach the top in those fields,” she said.
Others say closing the gap is about tapping into the reasons women choose careers in STEM in the first place. Dr Michael Myers, OAM, is the founder of Re-Engineering Australia Foundation (REA), an organisation that has been engaged in getting kids interested in STEM since 1998.
“The first thing I would put to you is that getting either boys or girls engaged in STEM is no more difficult than the other. But the value proposition of being engaged in STEM careers has been done incorrectly for girls compared to boys,” he told IRW.
Citing research from REA on the motivational drivers behind STEM career choices, Myers said men tend to choose STEM careers based on their personal interactions – who they have met and dealt with – while women tend to seek out STEM careers based on the opportunity to manage complex situations.
But even though this is an inherent part of STEM jobs in many fields, Myers said that it isn’t how those jobs are talked about or perceived.
“We don’t talk about the fact that STEM careers involve engaging with people and managing and organising. For a long time, we’ve been talking about them as being ‘nuts and bolts’ jobs,” Myers said.
For Myers, however, this is actually a good thing, because it means the gender gap is easy to fix – in theory at least.
“Getting the knowledge out to a huge audience requires a lot of effort and a lot of people need to take it up. You’ve got to tell it 20 times and 20 times more for people to get it,” he said.
“It’s breaking the norms [of conventional wisdom], and people resist that process.”