Canberra wants more women to take up STEM roles

The Australian government is seeking direction on how exactly it can breakdown the barriers for women in STEM-related fields.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

The federal government has started the development of a 10-year plan aimed at ushering more women into science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)-related roles, publishing a discussion paper asking for help on how exactly it is going to make it happen.

According to the Women in STEM Decadal Plan Discussion Paper [PDF], women are lost at every stage of the professional ladder in STEM fields, due to a range of factors including stereotypes, discrimination, and workplace culture and structure, some of which the paper said manifests from early school years.

The paper, compiled by the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, highlights that there are barriers at every level of schooling for women, and that the barriers continue well into their professional careers.


The current career path for a woman in STEM faces barriers at each stage.

One of the challenges the paper highlights is that STEM workplaces are historically typically male dominated, which often results in workplace structures and cultures that unconsciously or consciously discriminate against women and are not in line with the expectations or requirements of modern workers of all genders.

The pay gap between genders in STEM-related fields is largely unchanged since 2001, with the paper highlighting the professional, scientific, and technical services industry has the fifth highest gender pay gap in Australia at 22.6 percent.

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

The barriers experienced by white, middle-class, cisgender women may be very different to those of women of another gender identity, sexuality, age, religion, ethnicity, socio-economic status, or disability, and intersectionality must be considered when developing the plan.

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.

It asks eight questions of respondents, including asking what changes need to occur to enable more girls and women to participate in STEM education at any level.

It also asks what the most effective way to change inaccurate stereotypes about STEM professionals and the range of STEM careers.

It does not make any recommendations or contain draft steps for the plan, however.

Must read: Women in tech: Career tips for female IT pros and diversity resources for employers (TechRepublic)

The initiative was funded under the 2018-19 federal Budget, with the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science 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.

The funding being allocated to the department is AU$1.8 million in 2018-19, AU$1.1 million in 2019-20, AU$800,000 in 2020-21, and AU$800,000 in 2021-22.

The funding will also provide for a Women in Science Ambassador.

"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.

During Senate Estimates in May, the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science revealed that AU$600,000 had already been spent on the Decadal Plan, AU$3 million had been accounted for over three years on the STEM Ambassador, and AU$580,000 on the Girls in STEM toolkit.

The Women's Advisory Round Table -- a group stood up to provide advice to the government on how to advance the critical role of women across Australian business, industry, innovation, and science -- is another initiative handled by the department, which received criticism during Estimates for not having meetings scheduled to discuss issues such as the underrepresentation of women in STEM.

Submissions to the discussion paper close October 8, 2018.


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