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Gender parity in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) industry remains to be out of reach, despite significant growth in workplaces and in schools.
The Australian Government’s Department of Industry, Science and Resources released new data in the 2023 STEM Equity Monitor on July 21, pointing to a number of issues hindering the sector in reaching gender parity in the workforce.
One third of the growth of the STEM-qualified workforce in Australia, which increased by 300,000 workers in the last 10 years, was driven by women, yet the report found they only represent 15 per cent of the male-dominated industry.
Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, the Australian government’s Women in STEM ambassador, led the research with the aim to inform organisations in transforming the industry to reach gender equity in STEM and to further the STEM-skilled workforce in Australia.
“Progress towards gender equity in STEM is positive, but organisations must accelerate their efforts with concerted, coordinated and evidence-based action,” Harvey-Smith said.
The research encouraged STEM workplaces to prioritise gender equity policies over workplace support programs, as these programs are only effective when implemented alongside policies.
The benefits of doing so include consistency, high-quality evaluation and longevity, and maximising resources allocated to achieving gender equity.
The STEM Equity Monitor data wasn’t all bad news. The research found the number of high school students enrolling in STEM subjects in their final year of school has increased and has nearly reached gender parity.
Harvey-Smith said these findings presents a “tremendous opportunity” to encourage young people, particularly young girls, to enter the STEM sector.
“We need to ready young people for the jobs of tomorrow, where it’s predicted that half of ther workers will need to know how to work with digital systems – a critical skill embedded in STEM studies,” she said.
“Australia imports more than 50 per cent of our engineers from overseas because young people are not choosing engineering pathways. Research tells us that this is because they don’t understand what an engineer does, and they aren’t aware of all the different specialities within STEM.”
In 2020-2021, enrolments for year 12 STEM subjects went up by nearly 3000 students. More than half of these students were girls.
The research found female students largely enrolled in biological and earth sciences at school, whereas IT, physics and engineering subjects continued to be male-dominated.
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