Canberrans are calling on the education sector to do more to encourage women to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM), as local universities reflect "appalling" and "chronic" female underrepresentation.
In the University of Canberra's nine engineering degrees, there are a total of 49 female students in 2019; its two most popular courses in the field retain a female population of just 10 per cent.
In 2017, women made up about 12 per cent of the university's 106-person cohort; more than 5 percentage points lower than the national average. The Australian National University, which would not provide more recent figures, had a female engineering representation of about 24 per cent, or 340 of about 1050 students.
"I do agree that it's a male-dominated course because in my classroom, for example, I have 30 men and five females," Bachelor of Engineering student Parimala Banda said.
"I took physics and advanced math in high school, so I've always been the single girl in a lot of things.
"But that's what intrigued me - why do we have to follow the stereotype?"
While the University of Technology Sydney's decision to give women 10 ATAR adjustment points for entry to engineering, IT, and construction courses was a positive step, stigma surrounding gender roles was deeply ingrained in STEM, Miss Banda said.
Peak industry bodies, including the Association of Professional Engineers Australia, agreed educators should be the first to dispel it. Disparity between men and women in STEM started in primary school, continued through university, and was sustained in the workplace.
"[The ATAR adjustment is] not a silver bullet," chief executive Chris Walton said.
"If you read our survey, 'Women in STEM professions', it is like reading something out of Dickens' time.
"We would encourage all universities to develop proactive strategies to address the chronic underrepresentation of women in universities and those measures should include reducing the ATAR score, while not reducing graduation standards."
The 2018 survey found about one third of women in STEM did not believe they were getting equal pay, and one third of young female engineers intended to leave the profession in the next five years.
Only about 12 per cent of people in the engineering workforce were women, while an Engineers Australia report found less than 6 per cent of girls studied physics in year 12; only slightly more did advanced maths.
"Research suggests students start discounting career options from year 4," Engineers Australia's national diversity manager, Justine Romanis, said.
"If girls and boys lose confidence in those subjects at a young age, it can be difficult to re-engage them in later school years."
The body supported several projects targeting STEM engagement in primary school. The University of Canberra was creating a cohort of role models to inspire women and girls, while the Australian National University was aiming to have 50 per cent female students in engineering and computer courses by 2033.
Neither were committed to reducing ATAR entry bars.
Founder of Canberra-based company Ponder, Jane McMaster, said maths and science at schools should be made more interesting, and the government and private sector should consider offering women scholarships to study STEM subjects at university.
"That would be a way of diverting really smart women who like maths and science - it would nudge them in the direction towards engineering," she said.