From math to success: Inspiring girls to join the actuarial profession
While the Actuary profession is well on the way to gender parity, more could be done to encourage female participation. The key to solving this is encouraging more female students to enter the field and providing a supportive environment to thrive within.
In Australia, women make up 36% of enrolments in university STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) courses and 27% across all STEM industries. This statistic is consistent with global experience.
The Australian Actuaries Institute membership statistics fare better with 41% of students being female, and 28% of our fully qualified Fellows. There is no evidence of females students disproportionately leaving the Actuarial education program  or any discernable difference in exam performance between males vs. femalesv . Which is why the key to achieving gender parity long-term lies in encouraging more female students to enrol into the Actuarial education program which will reduce profession leakage.
Increase participation in high school mathematics.
In Australia, several states offer mathematics as an optional subject in senior high school. Within the last two decades, a reduction in the proportion of students studying standard and advanced mathematic courses in year 11-12 was seen. A common reason touted for this decline is students’ tendency to choose easier subjects in search of a higher university admission score. But equally important is the incentives (or lack of) for students to study mathematics. However, a welcome change is on the horizon.
From 2026, mathematics will once again be made mandatory for senior high school years in New South Wales. To the collective sighs and casual outrage that students are being ‘forced’ to do mathematics, not nearly enough noise is made to celebrate this change and the doors that will open for young people. It pains me to think of the opportunities lost within a generation of students who were not encouraged to take mathematics because it was merely an ‘option’, or the stigma associated with high-level math that discourages learning at an advanced level.
Here’s hoping that Australia is one step closer to joining New Zealand and Singapore to make mathematics a requirement throughout high school. This will open the door for more young Australians to pursue mathematics at University – including an Actuarial Science degree.
Mathematics as the universal language
Beyond numbers and equations, mathematics is the language that unlocks the secrets and beauty of the natural world, the ultimate problem-solving machine that allows professions like Actuaries to compute the uncertain. And yet most Australian adults’ attitude towards mathematics is “I’m not good at maths”, “it’s too hard” or “maths makes me anxious”. But there is hope yet!
I had the pleasure of attending a teaching session at my child’s primary school. During the math lesson, the children were engrossed in various activity stations including throwing dice and recording results, counting coins and determining cost, and grouping and dividing counters to understand parts and fractions. When asked how they feel about maths, the responses range from “it’s fine” to “it’s fun!” or “easy peasy macaroni” accompanied by an enthusiastic thumbs up. Attitude enables proficiency and it’s great to see the positive attitudes that the youngest generation has towards mathematics.
To contribute in my own way, I have joined the Institute’s Ambassador program and have filled in “maths” as my talent to share with my child’s class. Teaching adults in the Actuarial fellowship program is fine. Making math “fun” or “easy peasy macaroni” for 8-year-olds though is quite a daunting task!
Professional development and support.
I’ve had a fulfilling global career that has allowed me to work a broad spectrum of roles. While it has not always been smooth sailing navigating the corporate landscape, the key was the support I was given. I was fortunate to have no shortage of role models and mentors that encouraged me to go out of my comfort zone and pursue new challenges. I surrounded myself with men and women that ‘had my back’.
However, this support was not served on a silver platter. It was the combination of generous experienced professionals who took a keen interest in my development and myself taking the initiative to proactively seek help and guidance. To all aspiring actuaries, you should back yourself and if you don’t ask, you don’t get.
While these are not uniquely female or Actuarial specific issues, addressing these will help raise the tide and lift all boats.
What can you do to support this cause?
Promoting the profession and raising the visibility of female representation is key to attracting young women to pursue an actuarial career. Here are some programs and resources to consider:
Actuaries Institute Ambassador program: Recruiting ambassadors in all cities, but in particular Wellington New Zealand, Gold Coast, Canberra and Perth.
Do you have an interest in promoting the actuarial profession by meeting and nurturing the next generation of actuaries? Do you enjoy engaging and communicating with the younger generation? And are you an associate or fellow?
If you answered yes, then the Actuaries Institute’s inaugural Ambassador Program is just the program for you! The program is designed to engage students from universities and schools across Australia and New Zealand to promote actuary careers, the Institute, and our education pathways. As an ambassador, you will attend various local events, present talks, and even create career profiles or articles.
If this sounds like you, complete the Actuaries Institute – Ambassador Program EOI by 10th March 2023.
Do Data Better: Find out how we are raising awareness of actuaries, what we do and how we can help society better use data.
Girls in Business at UNSW: This initiative was created for female students in Years 10-12 to help raise and develop the female student profile in the UNSW Business School and Actuarial Studies.
“Women in Actuarial and Econometrics” Night at Monash University: This event provides invaluable opportunities for female members to network and be empowered by some of the most amazing women in the field.
I encourage you to take action to encourage young women to study maths and actuarial science.
 Unpublished UNSW statistics
 Unpublished Actuaries Institute statistics
 NSW Education Standards Authority
 NSW Education
CPD: Actuaries Institute Members can claim two CPD points for every hour of reading articles on Actuaries Digital.