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STEM in the Australian Public Service workforce

STEM plays an important part in the Australian Public Service (APS) across a variety of STEM and non‑STEM roles.

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills provided by a STEM education help ensure government policy, programs and research are evidence based.

The annual APS employee census provides data on workforce composition, including people working in STEM roles.

Publicly funded research agencies (PFRAs) are APS agencies whose main focus is research. PFRAs often employ a lot of STEM-qualified people.

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APS workforce by role

Compare numbers and employment levels of women and men working in the APS in STEM roles, non-STEM roles and health roles in 2020–2021.

Source: Australian Public Service Commission (unpublished)

Data insights

In 2021, 61% of APS employee census respondents were women.

12% of respondents reported doing one of the following STEM roles as their main type of work:

  • digital
  • engineering and technical
  • information and communications technology
  • science.

Only 32% of APS employees working in STEM roles were women. In comparison, women made up 65% of employees in non-STEM roles and 78% of health roles.

These numbers have remained stable since 2020.

STEM roles overall

Most STEM roles in the APS had a classification level of APS 5 or 6. The proportion of women in STEM roles at that level and above was around half that of men:

  • Women working at APS 5 or 6 level made up 14% of all STEM roles in the APS. Men at APS 5 or 6 level made up 29%.
  • Women at Executive Level 1 (EL1) made up 10% of all STEM roles. EL1 men made up 21%.
  • Women at EL2 made up 4% of all STEM roles. EL2 men made up 11%.

STEM roles at executive level

55% of overall EL1 and EL2 respondents were women. One third of the respondents in EL1 and EL2 STEM roles were women.

Similarly, the overall proportion of women and men at Senior Executive Service (SES) levels was about equal (women 51%, men 49%). 38% of SES-level STEM roles were filled by women.

2019 workforce by education field

Compare the numbers and employment levels of women and men with STEM qualifications working in the APS in 2019.

Source: Australian Public Service Commission (unpublished)

In 2019, the APS employee census recorded the higher education qualification of respondents.

21% of respondents reported a STEM field as the main focus of their qualification. 34% of those respondents were women.

Women’s representation was highest at the Graduate APS level, where they made up 41% of STEM qualified graduates. It was lowest at Executive Level 2 (26%).

2% of STEM-qualified women worked at SES levels, compared to 3% of non‑STEM-qualified women. The APS 5 and 6 levels had the largest number of STEM-qualified women (2135, or 35%).

2021 PFRA workforce by role

Compare numbers and employment levels of women and men working at PFRAs in STEM, non-STEM and health occupations since 2020.

Source: Publicly funded research agency data, 2021 (unpublished)

Data insights

In 2021, 71% of all people working in the sampled PFRAs were in STEM occupations. This is an increase of almost 4% from 2020. Women made up 28% of people in STEM occupations, the same as 2020. By comparison, women made up 59% of non-STEM occupations in PFRAs, an increase of 6 percentage points from 2020.

The largest number of women in STEM were working at the EL1 level (812, or 35% of women in STEM occupations). The largest number of men were also at the EL1 level (2,107, or 35% of men in STEM occupations).

In both 2020 and 2021, most STEM occupations were at the APS 3 to EL2 levels. In 2021, the proportion of women at the APS 3 and EL1 levels went up slightly compared to 2020.

The number of STEM staff working at an EL2 level increased for both men and women in 2021 – a 28% increase for men and a 23% increase for women. However, the EL2 level was the level with the largest difference between men and women in STEM roles – 18% of EL2 roles in STEM were held by women, one percentage point less than in 2020.

In 2021, women held 20 of the 58 SES positions for STEM occupations. That’s 34% of SES STEM roles, a decrease of one percentage point from 2020. 0.9% of women in STEM were working at an SES level, compared to 1% of women in non-STEM occupations. 0.6% of men in STEM were working at an SES level, compared to 4% of men in non-STEM occupations.

About the data

APS employee census

The APS employee census is an annual voluntary survey administered to all eligible APS employees. The data is self-reported and reflects the classifications respondents held at the time of the survey, rather than their substantive classification level. 

In 2021, the census asked respondents to best describe the type of work they do. We defined whether these roles were STEM, health or non-STEM based on our methodology. People in senior positions may describe their role as ‘organisation leadership’, in which case their responses would not be captured within STEM.

In 2019, the census asked respondents about the main focus of their higher education qualification (university and VET). This question was not asked in 2020 or 2021. The 2019 interactive data above only includes APS employees who reported having a higher education qualification.

In 2021, 109,537 APS employees responded, representing 77% of the eligible APS workforce. In 2019, 104,471 APS employees responded (77% of the eligible workforce).

See the APSC 2021 employee census explanatory guide and agency reports.

See the APSC 2019 employee census explanatory guide and agency reports .

PFRA data

This data does not cover all publicly funded research agencies. Workforce data was provided by the following agencies:

  • Australian Antarctic Division
  • Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research
  • Australian Institute of Marine Science
  • Australia’s Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation
  • Bureau of Meteorology
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
  • Defence and Science Technology Group
  • Geoscience Australia.

Participating agencies defined which occupations in their agency were STEM, health and non-STEM. They based this either on our methodology or through a self-determined analysis.

Agencies also aligned classification levels in the organisation to equivalent levels in the Australian Public Service if they do not use standard APS classifications.

Some staff in senior positions may be described as being in management or leadership occupations, so may not be captured within STEM.

Read more about our methodology and this data.