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Outcome: Australian STEM workplaces support the active recruitment and retention of women in STEM roles at all levels.

Why focus on the workplace?

Addressing gender inequality in STEM takes more than just addressing the numbers. Workplace culture and conditions are integral for recruiting and retaining women in STEM careers, as well as supporting their progression to leadership positions. Currently, women are underrepresented as both a proportion of STEM staff in the workplace and as a proportion of employees in higher-paid positions.[48] Similar to many industries in Australia, gender pay gaps are prevalent across the STEM sector, including in fields where women are represented as a greater proportion of the workforce such as in the life sciences.[49]

Gender inequality in STEM workplaces limits the talent available and makes it more difficult to do business, particularly when women are not present at senior levels — diversity in leadership is strongly correlated with higher returns, profitability and share price.[50] Workplaces must address organisational, cultural and gender inequities that prevent organisations from attracting women to, and retaining women in, the STEM sector, and to ensure employers have access to the largest possible pool of qualified employees. This includes supporting parents returning from parental leave to reintegrate into the workplace and providing employees with the flexibility to determine how best to combine work and caring, consistent with operational requirements. Those in leadership positions should visibly promote gender equity within the workplace. Addressing embedded issues in the workplace, such as bias, stereotyping and inequitable practices, will remove potential obstacles and barriers and improve opportunities for women to advance in their careers.[51]

Working in environments that are male dominated, isolated due to remote field sites or lab work, and have hierarchical and dependent relationships mean the STEM environment can create higher levels of risk for harassment—sexual and non-sexual—to occur. [52] In June 2018, Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, announced a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Currently being undertaken by the Australian Human Rights Commission, the inquiry will examine the prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment, the drivers of these behaviours and the adequacy of the existing legal framework.[53] Workplaces must take responsibility for actions that reduce and remove behaviour, to create safe work environments for women that support them to be retained and progress within the STEM workforce.

Australia’s future economic competitiveness and prosperity relies on the skills and capabilities of our future workforce. Critical to the ability of Australia’s workforce to respond to future opportunities, will be the number of women that choose careers in STEM and our capacity to address the factors that cause them to leave the STEM workforce.

Actions

A NISA investment of $2 million over three years supported the establishment of Male Champions of Change for STEM (MCC-STEM). Seventeen Australian male STEM leaders have stepped up to the challenge of addressing gender inequity in their organisations. The first progress report, published October 2017, shows that members have committed to action on gender equity, introduced flexible working arrangements and set targets for gender balance on boards and in senior positions.

The Government also provided $2 million over three years to support the expansion of the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) pilot which is based on the UK’s successful Athena SWAN model. SAGE now includes 44 Australian universities, medical research institutes and research agencies – encompassing around half of the nation’s publicly funded research sector. Since the launch of SAGE, member organisations have improved arrangements for carer’s leave, expanded on-campus child care, and undertaken women only recruitment processes.

An evaluation of the SAGE pilot undertaken by the Australian Council for Educational Research found early evidence that SAGE is starting to have an impact and demonstrated the potential for transformational change. In light of these positive outcomes the Government will provide an additional $1.8 million over the next three years to support the ongoing operations of SAGE. This will assist SAGE beyond the pilot stage as they expand their operations to engage more of the publicly funded research sector and develop Silver and Gold Awards schemes.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the women’s share of employment in the resources sector, which is heavily reliant on STEM skills, has not changed in over 10 years.[54] Through the National Resources Statement the government will promote an inclusive workforce by working with industry and the states and territories to attract and retain women in the resources sector workforce, particularly in STEM fields.

The Women’s Economic Security Statement (WESS), launched on 20 November 2018, outlines the Government’s commitment to supporting greater economic participation of women in Australia. It builds on Towards 2025: An Australian Government strategy to boost women’s workforce participation, which recognises that more needs to be done to ensure girls and women are prepared for the jobs of the future.[55]

The Government committed to further measures supporting women in the STEM workforce in the WESS. The Boosting Female Founders initiative will provide targeted funding and support for women engaging in innovative entrepreneurship, including in STEM sectors, to help female founders overcome barriers to accessing early stage capital. This initiative will target and support female founded start-ups with the potential to expand to global markets. Increasing the gender diversity of founders will strengthen the performance of Australia’s start-up and innovation ecosystems over the longer term.

Case studies

  • The diversity advantage: For gender equality in STEM to become a reality, industry leaders need to take an active role. The Male Champions of Change (MCC) initiative does just that by engaging male leaders to drive and accelerate change.
  • Breaking down workplace barriers: Edith Cowan University was awarded a SAGE Athena SWAN Bronze Award in 2018. The award recognises the institution's progress in addressing gender inequity and supporting greater diversity and inclusion.

 

Footnotes