The LIFT program is a partnership between UOW, industry and community empowering women from the Illawarra
According to the 2022 STEM Equity Monitor prepared by the Department of Industry, Science and Resources, women only make up 36 per cent of enrolments in university science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) courses, and comprise only 27 per cent of the workforce across all STEM industries. As entrepreneurs and founders, women face substantial barriers to success, including a lack of access to funding for their start-ups, minimal information to support growth and few supportive networks to lift them up. It’s not surprising that only 23 per cent of senior management and 8 per cent of CEOs in STEM-qualified industries are women.
To boost women’s participation and leadership in STEM and entrepreneurship (STEM-E), the Australian Government has established the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants. In the latest round of funding, the University of Wollongong (UOW) was successful in securing $997,891 for its program LIFT, led by iAccelerate Director Dr Tamantha Stutchbury and Professor Danielle Skropeta from the Faculty of Science, Medicine and Health.
“Our program is a three-way academia-industry-community partnership aimed at creating a sustainable, long-term increase in women’s participation, employability, retention and leadership within STEM and entrepreneurship careers. We want to empower women from the Illawarra to rise to new heights while influencing future generations of female trailblazers,” Dr Stutchbury said.
The LIFT program is based on the transformative principle of ”lift as you climb”, involving diverse, intersectional relationships, respecting and empowering others, looking for mutually beneficial connections, passing along opportunities, and facilitating mentorships and networking opportunities.
Professor Danielle Skropeta explains that for years, there’s been a stark difference in interest and confidence in STEM between boys and girls, with few girls actively participating in primary school maths, coding and robotic events.
“We urgently need to turn around the 40-year ongoing decline in school engagement in science for Year 10 onwards, where Australia is ranked 86th globally. These numbers are even lower in women from diverse backgrounds and those facing intersectional challenges. Our LIFT program will work collaboratively to attract and include women from these underrepresented groups,” Professor Skropeta said.
LIFT builds on and integrates four highly successful UOW initiatives: iAccelerate, UOW Makerspace, Women’s Research Engineers Network (WREN) and the award-winning Women’s Leadership Program.
This project is supported by industry partners: ANSTO, Weld Australia, Australian Steel Institute, Bisalloy Steel and NowChem; community partners: Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra and SCARF Refugee Support; and the UOW-headquartered Australian Research Council Steel Research Hub, all providing significant co-funding, as well as logistical and practical support.
“I hope the long-lasting impact of the LIFT program will translate to more women creating companies, jobs and innovations that will not only benefit the Illawarra but the whole of Australia,” Dr Stutchbury said.