This page belongs to: STEM Equity Monitor

In focus: understanding the progression of different demographic groups through STEM

Some girls and women may face additional challenges to enter and progress in STEM study and careers.

Intersectionality is a conceptual framework from which to understand and articulate the multiple barriers that all underrepresented groups face. Gender, race, and class do not exist independently from other aspects of life. Supporting girls and women facing further challenges to participating in STEM (such as girls and women with disability and those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds) is critical to ensuring a diverse and inclusive STEM workforce and innovation ecosystem that represents our society.

Analysis by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) quantified how a cohort of people with intersectional identities travelled through the STEM pathway. It follows them from their graduation from university in 2011 to their occupation in 2016.

2016 graduate occupation paths by demographic

See the 2016 occupation outcomes of 2011 university graduates by demographic via interactive pathways.

Source: Australian Bureau of Statistics 2021 (unpublished)

2011 qualifications amongst underrepresented groups

This analysis shows that historically underrepresented demographic groups completed university in 2011 in disproportionately low numbers compared to their proportion of the population.

A clear example of this was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who comprised less than 1% of the cohort, despite making up approximately 2.7% of the Australian population in 2011 (ABS 2013). This was also the case for those born overseas, with disability and who spoke languages other than English.

This provides important context for the underrepresentation of these groups in STEM, as they are already less likely to be completing university education. However, when examining the proportions who complete STEM qualifications, the rate was fairly consistent across demographic groups within the 2011 cohort.

Within the cohort 16% completed a STEM qualification. Regardless of the demographic and unequal representations, in most demographic groups 15% to 18% completed a STEM qualification. however, there was a markedly low completion of STEM qualifications by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples (10%). There was also a higher rate of STEM qualification by those who spoke a language other than English at home (19%).

The impact of gender

To understand the STEM pathway of those with intersectional identities, another key component to examine is gender. This research is only able to provide data on women and men, and not non-binary populations due to small numbers and data availability.

Women comprised 61% of the whole 2011 cohort, however they made up 38% of STEM graduates. There was also a higher proportion of women within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 2011 cohort (71%). Distribution of women across demographic groups was mostly 37% to 42% of STEM graduates, regardless of their intersectionality or representation in the 2011 cohort. However, women had a higher representation in STEM graduates with disability (46%).

Following the STEM graduates through to their occupation in 2016, graduates’ gender was a clear indicator of the likelihood of being in a STEM-qualified occupation. The data showed a much smaller proportion of women than men, with 26% of women STEM graduates in a STEM- qualified occupation. By contrast, it was 47% of men STEM graduates.

Examining the impact of intersectional identities, there was a level of consistency across many demographic groups. For example, women STEM graduates born overseas were as likely to be in a STEM-qualified occupation as women STEM graduates born in Australia (26%). However, there were also demographic groups with higher proportions of women STEM graduates in STEM‑qualified occupations in 2016, such as those who only spoke English at home (28%). For men, the highest proportion was also those who only spoke English at home (50%).

The lowest proportion of men STEM graduates in a STEM-qualified occupation in 2016 were men with disability (40%). They were less likely than men without disability to be working in a STEM‑qualified occupation in 2016. For women, the proportions of women in a STEM-qualified occupation in 2016 is similar, with and without disability. This is despite women accounting for a higher proportion of STEM graduates with disability, than women STEM graduates without disability.

STEM participation of underrepresented groups

Within the first 5 years following graduation, this analysis shows that the underrepresentation of people with intersectional identities in STEM begins with their underrepresentation in the university cohort.

It also shows that this is not the case for women overall, who were overrepresented in the whole 2011 cohort, but made up 38% of STEM graduates. Although women were underrepresented in 2011 STEM graduates, the significant gender impacts were most obvious in the rates of women and men in STEM-qualified occupations 5 years on, across all demographic groups. However, some differences were seen particularly in smaller demographic groups, like those identified above for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples and those with disability.

About the data

The occupations on this page use definitions based on the 2016 Census of Population and Housing.

Our department commissioned the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) to undertake this longitudinal analysis.

ABS examined the occupational outcomes of the 2011 cohort of university graduates for the following 5 years through to 2016. To do this, the ABS analysed the Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP) Modular Product (2011–2016), which is a linked dataset providing anonymised and aggregated analysis of the following:

  • 2011 higher education data
  • 2016 Census of Population and Housing data
  • 2010–11 to 2015–16 personal income tax data.

This allowed ABS to determine income, occupation and industry details through the years from 2011 until 2016.

Not all demographics are captured in this analysis (for example, those of diverse sexuality), either due to small numbers or lack of available data. The analysis is done by each demographic group and gender. Therefore it does not reflect multiple demographic indicators other than gender (for example, people with disability who were born in Australia). It also does not represent those within the VET education pathway, although if these data linkages become possible in the future, these will be integrated. The data is presented by proportion, and includes groups of vastly different sizes. This indicates that number changes within smaller groups will show greater impacts (to proportions or percentage) than number changes within larger groups.

The next analysis will be published following the 2021 Census. It will follow this cohort through to the 2021 Census, providing insights for 10 years of the STEM pathway following graduation.

Read about the ABS’ Multi-Agency Data Integration Project.

Read more about our methodology and this data.