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Crucial progress for women in STEM – but much more work to do

Science & Technology Australia Media Release

The number of women enrolled in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) degrees jumped by 24% between 2015 and 2020, bringing 17,000 more women into STEM study and lifting women’s share of STEM enrolments at universities from 34% to 37%, new data confirms.

But while the pipeline of women in STEM degrees has grown strongly, women remain vastly under-represented at the top levels of Australia’s STEM workforce – with just 23% of senior managers and 8% of CEO roles in STEM held by women – and a 18% gender pay gap remains.

The 2022 STEM Equity Monitor from the Department of Industry, Science & Resources reveals the pipeline of women coming into STEM study at universities has grown strongly since 2015.

Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer 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.”

“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.”

“The next urgent challenge is for deeper efforts to tackle the gender pay gap for women in STEM and to propel many more women into senior management and leadership roles in the STEM workforce. STEM employers have a powerful responsibility here.”

“We’ve seen some big strides in the participation of women in science and maths over the past decade – now we need to see that shift in engineering and technology.”

“These figures highlight that the array of Women in STEM initiatives over the past decade are starting to yield tangible progress.”

“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 & Technology Australia is a champion of gender equity and diversity in STEM. We are proud to partner 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.

Meg Panozzo is an infrastructure advisory consultant with a background in engineering working for professional services firm RPS. She is part of Science & Technology Australia’s STA STEM Ambassador program, which pairs a STEM expert with their local Federal MP or Senator to provide ongoing STEM advice and insights. Ms Panozzo is STEM Ambassador to Independent Member for Wentworth, Allegra Spender.

“The STEM Equity Monitor data shows we need to focus on both attraction and retention. We need to think about the whole cycle of a career from early education all the way through to senior leadership. We can all play a part in supporting and empowering women to grow in their STEM careers, particularly into senior leadership positions,” she said.

“The stats confirm we need to keep pushing for change. 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.”

About Science & Technology Australia

Science & Technology Australia is the nation’s peak body representing more than 90,000 scientists and technologists. We’re the leading policy voice on science and technology. Our flagship programs include Science Meets Parliament, Superstars of STEM, and STA STEM Ambassadors.

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  1. Phil Pryor

    STEM subjects are very important to modern life, but so are LASS subjects, Literature, Arts, Social Sciences. They add to the former to make us aware, intelligent, civilised. We must do better in quality and quantity in all this.

  2. Michael Taylor

    Phil, stepdaughter was doing a PhD in molecular biology – was in her final year when Abbott won the 2013 election and he promptly cancelled all university funding on any program that was studying the effects of climate change. There endeth the PhD. She’s now an MD instead.

  3. Michael Taylor

    Agree on the social sciences. Fascinating stuff.

    History is now taught differently. When doing Knowledge, Ideology and Social Science at uni – and studying James Cook – we were not interested in historical dates but, in the context of Aboriginal Studies, what ideology drove Cook. In a nutshell, what was in his head?

    He came here believing he knew everything there was to know about the “natives”. How did he develop that (lack of) knowledge? To answer that we had to study the Reformation and the Age of Discovery.

  4. Phil Pryor

    Michael, curiously, my daughter finalised an equivalent honours degree in science (microbiology), grandson has completed, this year, second engineeering degree, grand daughter is in second year of Ph. D. in genetics and medical science, while I had none of this line at all. It is essential for us all as a human race to pursue truth, knowledge, understanding, creativity, aesthetics, purity of ethics, morals, decency, behaviour, attitude, outlook, creativity in any and every form, so as to collaborate, succeed, survive. We cannot interact and be a communicating society without the LASS approach at all, despite compartmental skills in STEM. And, your family story about the Abbott related betrayal is sickening. Best wishes now for our little efforts…as for J Cook, an ongoing and unfolding continuum, we are lucky that he, a little and Phillip, quite a bit, were products of a better, more detached enlightenment attitude, relatively free for those times of cloying, distorting religious superstition and dogma.

  5. Michael Taylor

    Phil, don’t laugh, but I’m applying to do a PhD. Finishing off the application in a few days.

  6. Phil Pryor

    Go to the dunny; sit there, quietly; do not get up; think. Leave all this behind you…

  7. Michael Taylor

    Nah. I’m going for it. 😀

  8. Fred

    Apart from “Theology” education is a good thing, provided it is not just about facts, texts, opinions, theorems, equations, etc., but also the student learns how to learn. Being good at STEM does not necessarily make one good at managing a STEM based company.

  9. Michael Taylor

    Hi, Fred.

    The thing I liked at my uni lecturers (UniSA) was their encouragement of independent thought.

    And more than just walking out of uni with a couple of degrees, my whole world view was changed. I believe I left uni as a better person; gone were my sexist and racist attitudes.

  10. Fred

    Michael, I went through SAIT, now part of UniSA graduating in the year that Philips shut down. As an Electronics Engineer, the “degree knowledge” gained didn’t see that much use while working for multi-national computer companies, but my ability to learn had me running “special projects” (basically anything unusual). I have given back much more than my “free degree” cost. Thanks Gough. A smarter country is a better country – HECS sucks and slows progress.

  11. Canguro

    I was also a Gough beneficiary, having left home and entered the workforce before my 17th birthday. It took another 14 years before I got to uni, but it was worth the wait and the effort of reintroduction to science subjects and the five-year slog to the finish line.

    One of the best stories I heard of the benefit of Gough’s freeing up access to higher education was from a colleague when I was working in nthn Asia; he’d been a ringer – a stationhand – on sheep & cattle stations north of Port Augusta in SA. He’d also competed on the professional rodeo circuit in the USA but he broke his back in a car accident after a weekend on the grog in town, and it finished his days as a cowboy.

    He retrained. First he became a competent chef. He then went to Flinders Uni and took an arts degree and worked for the ABC as a regional journalist in Mt Gambier. He continued with his higher education and gained a PhD in anthropology. His marriage collapsed, he went to Canada and worked as a lecturer at a uni in Ottawa, eventually snagging one of his students in marriage and then ending up in South Korea where the pair of them worked as English language teachers.

    For a man who’d loved the outdoor life and horses, and had lost it all, along with his marriage, but had then found new direction through education, my impression was of a person who’d benefited enormously, in terms of attitude and being.

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