The Australian government is launching a review into diversity in the science and technology sector.
Among other things, the review will examine how to support women and girls in pursuing careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM).
“Women remain chronically underrepresented in STEM, making up only 16 percent of people with STEM qualifications,” said Ed Husic, Federal Minister for Industry and Science, in a statement.
“Of First Nations people, only half a percent hold university-level STEM qualifications.
“Renewed effort is required to address this problem and meet the growing demand for workers in the tech and science sectors.”
Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, who has been the federal government’s Women in STEM Ambassador since 2018, welcomed the announcement.
“More than 420,000 women in Australia have vocational or university STEM qualifications, but five years after graduating, 9 out of 10 of these STEM-qualified women do not work in STEM,” said Harvey-Smith in a statement.
Gender balance across different fields of STEM is highly variable. Some areas, like software engineering, have difficulty recruiting women at the tertiary education level, while others see attrition once women reach the workforce.
“Harmful workplace culture, poor access to affordable childcare, the gender pay gap, and a lack of flexible work arrangements prevent women’s full participation in our workforce.”
More on the government’s review: The review on women in STEM: a physicist’s perspective
While there have been hundreds of initiatives to increase women’s participation in the Australian STEM workforce, there are only low levels of evaluation data publicly available – making it hard to check the efficacy of such programs.
“Finding the best programs and scaling them up is a great opportunity. Getting this right will require leadership, but it will achieve significant social change,” said Harvey-Smith.
“Knowing which programs are working and can be scaled up requires proper evaluation. A key recommendation from the Women in STEM Decadal Plan was to boost evaluation to see which programs were making a positive difference.”
Ellen Phiddian is a science journalist at Cosmos. She has a BSc (Honours) in chemistry and science communication, and an MSc in science communication, both from the Australian National University.
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