Griffith University researchers have implemented and evaluated a pilot program designed to retain women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, Manufacturing and Design (STEM2D) university programs.

“Despite a significant focus by schools, universities, industry and all levels of government, measures to increase female participation in STEM2D, completion of undergraduate courses in engineering and related technologies in Australia is far lower for women than men,’’ said Professor Debra Henly, Senior Deputy Vice Chancellor, Griffith University.

“This is the first comprehensive study evaluating a program to retain women enrolled in STEM2D degrees at an Australian university.”

Through a series of co-design workshops with 47 female undergraduate students Social Marketing @ Griffith researchers identified four key barriers to full participation.

These included issues of gender equality, lack of confidence, dysfunctional communication and lack of role models.

“While gender equality was perceived as an issue, the participants said inclusion of both genders in any STEM2D program was necessary to avoid further standing out,’’ said Social Marketing @ Griffith lead researcher Dr Bo Pang.

“Further, a lack of confidence often led to difficulties in maintaining academic performance while poor communication from the tertiary provider meant there was low awareness of the wide range of support services available.

“Finally, female role models are crucial in inspiring STEM2D undergraduate students.”

The Social Marketing @ Griffith research team tested a range of strategies in Trimester 3, 2018/2019. One strategy included bias literacy workshops and the testing of a series of social advertisements.

The workshops received a high satisfaction rate, while social advertisements received 6000 unique email opens and more than 1000 click-throughs. Confidence was significantly improved and female STEM2D students became more aware of university services designed to support them to finish their degrees.

“This is an excellent result demonstrating steps that universities can implement to increase awareness for university services that are already available to support STEM2D students,’’ Dr Pang said.

“Our study provides a roadmap that can be followed to design and implement campaigns to retain females in STEM2D university programs.’’

The report on pilot outcomes can be found on Griffith’s open access site, Griffith Research Online.

The study will be published in the Journal of Social Marketing in 2020 and was co-funded by the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies as part of their aspirations of increasing the number of women entering and graduating from undergraduate programs with STEM2D degrees. Griffith University is one of 13 universities worldwide, and the first in Australia, to participate in the program.