More than 17,000 women have enrolled in STEM studies over a six-year period, despite a significant pay gap dominating the industry in favour of men.
The number of women enrolled in STEM degrees jumped by 24 per cent between 2015 and 2020, a change that has also seen women’s share of STEM enrolments at universities from 34 per cent to 37 per cent, new data confirms.
The 2022 STEM Equity Monitor from the Department of Industry, Science an Resources reveals the pipeline of women coming into STEM study at universities has grown strongly since 2015.
Science and Technology Australia CEO Misha Schubert said the latest snapshot highlighted the twin tasks of further widening the pipeline of women into STEM and supporting women to thrive and progress into leadership roles in the STEM workforce.
“After a decade of concerted effort to encourage more girls and young women to study STEM, we’re starting to see real progress now with many more women doing STEM degrees,” Ms Schubert said.
“That’s hugely important to help transform who sees themselves pursuing a career in STEM, and in changing parental expectations that young women would choose science, maths, engineering and technology degrees.”
Regional high school student Sarah Onoprienko said work experience at the Cancer and Aging Research Program (CARP) in Brisbane in 2021 motivated her to pursue lab work in the biomedical field.
“I have been lucky enough to be exposed to these programs thanks to my extremely passionate science teacher,” Sarah said.
“I believe that I will struggle as a girl in a STEM career as – while it is slowly changing – these jobs are still male-dominated areas which can be incredibly intimidating for young women.
“I don’t think it’s a stretch of the imagination that I would face discrimination, be significantly disadvantaged in getting support from my peers, and face more significant repercussions for mistakes as a woman in STEM.”
While the pipeline of women in STEM degrees has grown strongly across the board, women remain vastly under-represented at the top levels of Australia’s STEM workforce, with just 23 per cent of senior managers and 8 per cent of CEO roles in STEM held by women, and an 18 per cent gender pay gap remains.
Ms Schubert said it was the responsibility of STEM employers to address the gender pay gap and push more women into senior management and leadership roles, especially in engineering and technology sectors.
“These figures highlight that the array of Women in STEM initiatives over the past decade are starting to yield tangible progress,” she said.
“Diversity in all its forms is crucial for excellence and equity in STEM – diverse teams deliver stronger innovation in breakthroughs and think about complex challenges from more angles.”
Science and Technology Australia champions gender equity and diversity in STEM and has partnered with the Australian Government to deliver the game-changing Superstars of STEM program to advance gender equity by creating diverse STEM role models in the media.
RPS infrastructure advisory consultant and STEM ambassador Meg Panozzo said everybody could play a role in empowering women to pursue senior roles in the STEM sector.
“The STEM Equity Monitor data shows we need to focus on both attraction and retention,” Ms Panozzo said.
“But we need to talk about the positives as well – we need to showcase STEM in its whole breadth of possibility. STEM is an exciting way to make a difference, to creatively solve the world’s crises, and to satisfy our curiosity to be life-long learners.
“This is how we can attract a diversity of people to take up STEM careers, and make the industry a place that fosters growth, innovation and career fulfilment.
“You can’t be what you can’t see.”