AU$3.4m to be spent on getting Australian women to take up STEM

The funding is expected to improve STEM equity in Australia and boost the participation of girls and women in STEM careers.

The federal government has made a funding announcement ahead of the 2019-20 Budget due to be delivered on Tuesday night, aimed at ushering more women in Australia to take up a career in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

It has allocated AU$3.4 million to the cause of "improving STEM equity" in Australia. According to Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews, the funding will also address gender inequity in STEM and will help "improve women's economic security".

"In order to have the widest talent pool possible we need to ensure all Australians are supported to participate in STEM activities and careers," she said in a statement. "We know that STEM is the engine of technology, innovation, and wealth -- and gender-diverse teams are better problem solvers."

SEE: The state of women in computer science: An investigative report [PDF download] (TechRepublic cover story)

Of this funding, AU$1.8 million will be allocated to the government's existing Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative, which was announced in 2016 by former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

SAGE was initially allocated AU$3.9 million in funding, which was to be spread across 24 organisations to roll out projects aimed at building interest in STEM for primary school age students, post-graduates, and women already pursuing STEM careers, and encouraging entrepreneurship among women.

AU$2 million was also given to the cause a year ago during the 2018-19 Budget.

Andrews said the additional funding would be used for higher education and research sectors to improve gender equity policies and practices.

"We have a vision of all eligible Australian research institutions being SAGE members, demonstrating their commitment to gender equity. Ongoing support for this initiative will help achieve this," Andrews added.

With the government in October announcing the country was receiving its first Women in STEM ambassador in Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, AU$1.5 million of the latest funding will be used to implement an initiative raising national digital awareness.

"We want to heighten the visibility of girls and women in STEM and showcase the diverse opportunities STEM study and careers can provide," the minister said.

The Women in STEM Ambassador is funded by the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which was allocated AU$4.5 million over four years under the Australian Technology and Science Growth Plan to formulate a Women in Science Strategy to develop and distribute STEM Choices resources kits to school-age girls, develop a decade-long plan for women in science, and provide a roadmap for sustained increases in women's STEM participation, in addition to fund the Ambassador role.

"A Women in Science Ambassador will encourage girls' participation in STEM subjects, while the 10-year Plan for Women in Science will set out a long-term strategy for increasing female involvement in STEM education and careers," the government explained at the time.

The federal government in September started the development of the 10-year plan aimed at ushering more women into STEM-related roles, publishing a discussion paper asking for help on how exactly it was going to make it happen.

It is hoped by the government that the 10-year plan will develop recommendations and pathways to remove barriers to women's participation and progression in STEM at every stage.

Andrews on Monday night, alongside the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, launched the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, which outlines six opportunities to strengthen gender equity in STEM in Australia over the next 10 years.

It includes establishing a national evaluation framework to guide decision making and drive investment and efforts into STEM measures, with Australian Academy of Science Fellow and Expert Working Group member Professor Sue O'Reilly saying that while many organisations are taking actions at an individual level to support the attraction, retention ,and progression of women in STEM, there is an "urgent case for cohesive, systemic, and sustained change".

"Change can commence at the grassroots and this should not be discouraged. However, the systemic and sustained change required to make a step change in achieving gender equity in Australia will primarily occur when led and championed from the top," O'Reilly said.

"It's not just an equality perspective that's important here, it's a business imperative," Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith added.

"Australia needs to be the clever country again. We need to be getting those large tech companies to stay in Australia and we need to be developing business capabilities around the new economies and become worldwide competitive again."

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