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Review to address chronically underrepresented state of women in STEM

Health Industry Hub | March 6, 2023 |

Medical: Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and engagement in STEM are the foundation for a thriving scientifically and technologically enabled economy. Employment opportunities in STEM occupations in Australia are expected to grow by 12.9% by 2025, with the current pipeline in Australia unable to support this demand.

In September 2022, Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic MP announced a Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review. The commitment emerged from discussions held in the lead up to and during the Jobs and Skills Summit. This review will evaluate the delivery and impact of the existing suite of women in STEM programs and other relevant measures in the portfolio. It will also examine how these existing programs can be reformed to support greater diversity of STEM-skilled Australians across all levels of Australia’s STEM sector, from childhood through to senior leadership.

Women remain underrepresented, making up only 16% of people with STEM qualifications. Of First Nations people, only 0.5% hold university-level STEM qualifications.

The Women staying in the STEM workforce report recently found that over one-third of the women in the STEM workforce aged 25 to 35 intend to leave their profession within 5 years.

Sally-Ann William, CEO at Cicada Innovations and Chair of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review said “I became involved in this process because I fundamentally believe we need to do better and we need to create better pathways and greater pathways for everybody to be engaged.”

Duncan McIntyre, Deputy Secretary, Science and Technology Group, Department of Industry, Science and Resources, and a member of the review panel said “STEM in many ways is about creativity. It’s about combining things that haven’t been combined before to find new ways to do things that make our society better. And it’s only through diversity that you have new things to combine to create knowledge that will take us forward.”

Mikaela Jade, CEO and Founder at Indigital and a panel member for the review panel stated “Personally, I like to add an extra S to the STEM acronym to reflect storytelling, so it becomes STEMS, and storytelling is really about the stories that we tell to share intergenerational knowledge about science, technology, engineering and maths. Our First Nations Elders are some of the most phenomenal scientists I’ve ever met in this country, and they hold 80,000 years of ancestral knowledge about how Country works and how we’re connected to this place called Australia.”

The Chief Scientist of Australia, Dr Cathy Foley welcomed the review. She noted “But this is more than just about representation. Getting the settings right for women and for other groups in our community, is about equity. It will also ensure we can fill the skills gaps in industries set to shape Australia over the next two decades, by making use of our full human potential.”

Ms William added “I have a STEM career, and yet my parents owned a fruit and veggie shop. I was the first in my family to finish high school and the first in my family to go to university. But even then I didn’t actually imagine that I’d be working in the world that I do today because it didn’t exist yet.

“And that’s exactly the point of this review.

“One of the things that I know to be true about STEM careers is we need the broadest representation of our population involved and engaged. If we are going to create products and services and solutions to solve some of the world’s most pressing problems, we need everybody to fully participate in that.”

Initial feedback is being sought on the cultural and systemic barriers in STEM and how they can be broken down.

The review will make public draft recommendations in July 2023 for consultation with final recommendations to be provided to the minister by October 2023.

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