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Women are currently under-represented in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industry and the inclusion of women in STEM has today become more relevant than ever. For Australia to fully engage in the opportunities that come along with advances in technology, gender inequity needs to be balanced out so the Australian workforce can be optimised.

Research has shown that gender-diverse companies are 15% more likely to financially outperform their counterparts. Yet, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Institute of Statistics ranks participation of women in STEM across the Asia Pacific region second last globally – with women making up on average just 23% of the workforce.

What is causing the disparity in STEM in Australia?

According to research conducted by the Grattan Institute, if 6% more women joined the workforce, this would add up to $25 billion to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product. However, increasing the number of women within the STEM market is not an overnight task. Bias and stereotyping of women in particular roles have shaped girls’ and women’s view of STEM from an early age. For example, a study conducted by the government has shown that female students have expressed less interest and less confidence in undertaking STEM subjects – as opposed to their male counterparts. 

In addition to the above, the study has identified that women’s participation in the workforce is lower than men’s due to cultural barriers such as women being the primary carer of the family. As at January 2019, 83% of men between the age of 15 and 64, took part in the workforce, compared to 73.6% of women. This goes to show that in order to increase female participation in STEM, there needs to be a cultural shift in society and a supportive environment that encourages women to participate more in the workforce as a whole.

In response to this, the Australian government is providing a minimum of $500,000 to the development of a Girls in STEM Toolkit which will be launched in August 2019. This toolkit is designed to confront stereotypes and provide guidance to girls in terms of the benefits of pursuing STEM studies and a career in STEM.

How can the government play a role in improving gender equality?

In the 2018-2019 Budget, the government stated its commitment to improve the participation, development and retention of women in STEM through the Australian Academy of Science’s Decadal Plan for Women in STEM.

The STEM market has historically been male-dominated and can be quite hierarchical when compared to other fields. Through the Decadal Plan, high level guidance will therefore be provided to the STEM sector to assist in resolving issues that hinder the participation of women in the STEM industry. This includes six opportunities to strengthen gender equity in STEM in Australia, namely:

  1. Stronger leadership and cohesion across the Australian STEM ecosystem
  2. A national evaluation framework for decision-making
  3. Workplace culture
  4. Equal representation of women in media
  5. Strengthening the education sector and encourage women to study STEM courses
  6. Provide a framework to address gender equality amongst SMEs


What other ongoing initiatives are available to support women in STEM?

In the ‘Advancing Women in STEM’ report, the government has shown support for the delivery of the following initiatives to further promote gender equity in Australia:

  • The Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship (WISE) grants program

As part of the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA), the WISE program provides the opportunity to champion initiatives that encourage the participation of girls and women in STEM. The WISE program has provided $8 million to support 46 projects and will continue to provide up to $1 million per year to support specific STEM gender equity initiatives.

  • The Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) program

SAGE is an initiative designed to advance gender equity in the higher education and research sector. Through programs like SAGE, the government can ensure that a diverse workplace culture can provide a platform for women to contribute and participate across all levels and areas of STEM.

  • Women in IT Executive Mentoring Program (WITEM)

In a move to attract and retain women with IT skills in the Australian Public Service, WITEM aims to address under-representation of women in the IT profession and increase the gender diversity of senior IT employees. This award-winning program has demonstrated an increase in confidence and career growth in participants.

  • Indigenous Girls STEM Academy

$25 million is being invested over a ten year period to support greater participation of Indigenous girls in the STEM industry. $20 million of this amount has been allocated to the Indigenous Girls STEM Academy which supports up to 100 Indigenous girls every year and offers them possibilities of pursuing studies and a career in STEM.

The government is supporting STEM initiatives such as Questacon and has committed to provide $15.1 million over the next few years to encourage children to take up science and technology studies through Questacon’s education and outreach programs.

What is SThree doing to promote Women in STEM?

As a global STEM recruitment specialist with over 30 years of experience, we have not only seen the lack of female representation in the STEM market but also the challenges that they face when pushing for gender equality – especially at the executive level. Last month, we wrapped up the second event of our #WomeninSTEM series following the premiere of our #WomeninSTEM panel event last year. It was an unprecedented opportunity for us to come together with our clients and address gender inequality within the workplace.

Are you in support of women in STEM?

Based on our discussion with clients and candidates, it is undeniable that there needs to be a bigger push for gender equality in the workplace. If you would like to share your experience working in STEM or would like to participate in our next #WomeninSTEM series, feel free to give us a call on 02 9285 1000 or visit our LinkedIn page.

Progressive Recruitment is part of the larger SThree Group.