What makes Engineers Australia’s Best Student Group in Gender Diversity?

In August 2017, we were over the moon when Fifty50 was named Engineers Australia’s Most Encouraging Student Group/Not for Profit in Gender Diversity. With our attendance supported by the Australian National University College of Engineering and Computer Science, six of our 30+ team were accompanied by the Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Prof Margaret Harding and our trusted advisor, Kevin Keith, to accept the award at the Engineers Australia’s Women in Engineering Gala in Sydney.

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L to R: Kevin Keith (Advisor), Emily Campbell (Strategic Director), Jordan Smith (co-Executive Director), Emily Rose-Rees (Director of Pathways) Francesca Maclean (Strategic Director), Liz Cowling (Director of Brand Management), and Jen May (outgoing Director of Pathways)

Fifty50 is a student-led movement promoting gender equity in STEM at the Australian National University (ANU), founded mid-2015 by myself and Emily Campbell. We have developed and executed a variety of programs, events, and projects that through promoting gender equity in STEM, retain and recognise female engineers at university to ensure an inclusive and equitable pipeline to industry or academia. Combined with the recognition and retention of female engineering students, the award was also evaluated on the number of students targeted, and the number of female engineering students supporting the group.

At Fifty50, we champion gender equity, ensuring that all genders are engaged in the conversation and solutions, however this naturally results in an increased engagement in female STEM students. By promoting diversity and inclusion within STEM, a happy by-product is the increased engagement of female students who are still the minority in STEM, and who do not all benefit from an environment that includes them as they are. Fifty50 is an environment that includes and supports them fully, and champions inclusion in larger environments (i.e. the university!).

I wanted to give you an idea of what makes us Engineers Australia’s Most Encouraging Student Group/Not for Profit in Gender Diversity, because Fifty50 is the product of the dedication and passion of some pretty amazing students at the ANU, and their hard work is deserving of promotion – read below for an insight into what Fifty50 does:

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In 2016, Fifty50 ran two mentoring programs which had a total of 150 participants for the whole year. However, in 2017, the First Year Mentoring Program alone had 74 participants, 63.5% of which were female students. Paired with the First Year Welcome High Tea (for females in STEM, right), which attracted over 100 first year female students, these programs and events combat the isolation and exclusion experienced by female student engineers as a minority within their undergraduate programs.

To better equip students in the transition to industry or academia, and ensure the retention of female student, Fifty50 delivers a Career Development Program, sponsored by the Department of Defence (left). This has a total of 185 student participants, with 25% female engineers (over-participation compared to the student population). This forward-thinking program aims to address the attrition of females in the transition from university to the engineering profession.

At the time of the award selection, Fifty50 had a strong online presence mainly comprised of Facebook, which has expanded to Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. On Facebook we made 24 specific posts recognising female engineers, with an average reach of 800 per post, or ~19,000 reach in total, and when combined with 60% female engineer profiles in the Fifty50 blog, this public recognition of female engineers normalises their participation and excellence in the engineering sector, whilst also providing admirable role models for both female and male student engineers.

As we are a grassroots movement, we started off small: in 2016 Fifty50 had a total of 350 participants/attendees in programs/events (during 26 active weeks of the university semester). However, we worked hard to develop new quality programs and events, and so in the first 6 active weeks of the university semester in 2017, we had more than 400 participants/attendees in our programs/events. This 15-fold average increase in student engagement demonstrates the growth of Fifty50 in becoming a campus-wide brand for promoting gender equity in STEM at the ANU.

There are currently ~20% females studying undergraduate engineering at the ANU. Fifty50 has established a committee for students directly involved in the activities of Fifty50, as well as an Ambassador Program which is a pathway for new students to support our activities and eventually join Fifty50 as committee members. In total, there were 83% female engineering students supporting Fifty50. A comparable yet very long-established group, the ANU Engineering Students’ Association, has 29% committee members who are female engineers, demonstrating the enhanced ability of Fifty50 to provide female student engineers with leadership experience, increasing their visibility, and provide role models and mentors to younger female and male students within their cohort.

Fifty50 is a professional student-led movement with a focus on evidence-led, tangible change in achieving gender equity in STEM. I am so proud of what we have achieved in just two years, and can’t wait to see what the next two, five, and ten years bring (although, fingers crossed we will be rendered redundant long before then!).

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