Female representation in STEM to be pushed in the next decade

A student from Meekatharra District High School observing sunspots with a solar telescope. Image: Australian Academy of Science

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews has launched the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, which has found under-representation and under-utilisation of women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) poses a threat to the Australian economy.

Australia has not yet made systemic changes required to achieve diversity in STEM, according to the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.

The 2017 World Economic Forum’s gender gap report estimates that raising female economic participation by 25 per cent by 2025 could add as much as US$5.3 trillion ($7.5 trillion) to the global gross domestic product.

The plan outlines six opportunities to strengthen gender equity in STEM over the next 10 years, including establishing a national evaluation framework to guide decision making and investment into STEM measures.

The remaining opportunities are stronger cohesion and leadership across the sector, cultural shift in the work place that facilitates inclusion and career interruption flexibility, equal media representation and general visibility, a strengthened education system and a framework to develop tools to address gender diversity.

Against each opportunity are strategic recommendations that government, academia, industry, the education sector and community can customise to their sectors.

While many organisations are taking actions at an individual level, extensive stakeholder consultations confirm there is an urgent need for cohesive, systemic and sustained change, according to Australian Academy of Science fellow and Expert Working Group member Sue O’Reilly.

“Change can commence at the grassroots and this should not be discouraged. However, the systemic and sustained change required to make a step change in achieving gender equity in Australia will primarily occur when led and championed from the top,” O’Reilly said.

The plan also provides the first opportunity to tackle the issue of gender equity at a national scale, vice president of diversity at the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering Bruce Godfrey said.

“If this plan and the opportunities contained within it are realised, the STEM graduates of 2030 — 9- and 10-year-olds making their way through primary school in 2019, as well as those entering the workforce from other life journeys — will join workplaces that are respectful, free of harassment and discrimination and structured to support a variety of STEM careers that include women in leadership positions,” Godfrey added.

The plans will be first implemented through a Pathways to Equity in STEM workshop hosted by the academies in Melbourne on April 3.

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