Science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and engagement in STEM are the foundation for a thriving scientifically and technologically enabled economy. Employment opportunities in STEM occupations in Australia are expected to grow by 12.9% by 2025, with the current pipeline in Australia unable to support this demand.
Women remain underrepresented, making up only 16% of people with STEM qualifications. Of First Nations people, only 0.5% hold university-level STEM qualifications.
Women enrol in STEM university and vocational education and training (VET) courses at a lower rate than men. Of these enrolments, fewer still are employed as part of the STEM workforce. Women STEM graduates from both university and VET courses earn less than men in the majority of STEM fields. The Women staying in the STEM workforce report recently found that over one-third of the women in the STEM workforce aged 25 to 35 intend to leave their profession within 5 years.
To ensure Australia maximises its potential in STEM over the coming years, Australia must ensure all people feel they can access and belong within STEM education, careers and industries.
On 6 September 2022 the minister announced a Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review (the review). This review will evaluate the delivery and impact of the existing suite of women in STEM programs and other relevant measures in the portfolio. It will also examine how these existing programs can be reformed to support greater diversity of STEM-skilled Australians across all levels of Australia’s STEM sector, from childhood through to senior leadership.
The commitment to widen the pipeline of talent available to the STEM sector was informed by discussions held in the lead up to and during the Government’s 2022 Jobs and Skills Summit. Doing so will contribute to achieving the government’s commitment to reach 1.2 million technology-related jobs by 2030.
Promoting inclusion and diversity in STEM is imperative, with the science and technology sector recognising and supporting the need for change and further action by all parties.
The objectives of this review are to establish what is working, what is not, and where these lessons can be applied to improve overall diversity in STEM, STEM leadership and the STEM-skilled workforce.
It will examine how policies and programs can contribute to overcoming cultural and structural barriers that limit participation and retention of women and other historically underrepresented groups in STEM. This includes how these barriers play out differently in different locations, and for different cohorts.
It will identify best practice pathways that can be considered in the development of future initiatives aiming to improve STEM workforce diversity.
The review will also look at what is being done internationally, for lessons that Australia could apply to its efforts in this area.
A report on the review’s findings and recommendations will be submitted to government for consideration. The review will complement other critical work being done across government, including the employment white paper and the science priorities revitalisation.
Independent review panel and scope
The review will be led by an independent expert Review Panel (the panel), supported by the our department.
Panel membership will consist of 3 well respected people with diverse backgrounds from the STEM sector including the chair, and an ex-officio senior executive of the Australian Public Service will provide policy expertise as an ex-officio member. The panel will provide evidence-based, independent, expert and impartial advice and make recommendations on:
- the delivery, effectiveness and impact of existing programs under the Government’s Women in STEM program suite. This includes how current initiatives are working together as a suite to improve gender equity in STEM, and whether programs are contributing to systemic and cultural change.
- programs within the Industry and Science portfolio which aim to boost the participation of historically under-represented groups in STEM-related sectors but which do not form part of the Women in STEM program suite specifically, where relevant.
- cultural and structural barriers that limit participation and retention of women and other historically underrepresented groups in STEM professions.
- options for reforming, scaling up and broadening existing measures and initiatives and the respective roles of government, industry and education in those options. This will include design features proven successful in a variety of contexts to shape future programs.
- broader program and policy measures to promote and support greater and more nuanced inclusion and diversity in STEM with a focus on people from historically underrepresented backgrounds.
- how Government science and innovation investments could be shaped to be more inclusive of those cohorts currently underrepresented in STEM.
- opportunities to attract, promote, retain and support diverse leadership in the STEM sector.
The following programs within the Women in STEM program suite are in scope:
- Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador
- Elevate: Boosting the Next Generation of Women in STEM
- Girls in STEM Toolkit
- Male Champions of Change (STEM) – now named Champions of Change Coalition
- National Awareness Raising Initiative – ‘Future You’
- Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE)
- STEM Equity Monitor
- Superstars of STEM
- Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants (WISE)
It will also encompass policy frameworks including the Women in STEM Decadal Plan and the Advancing Women in STEM Strategy.
The panel may also consider other evidence-based information, including from other equity in STEM initiatives relevant to the review. This may include annual reports, evaluations, or specially prepared information submitted as part of the consultation process.
The panel will identify and engage with a breadth of stakeholders, including industry, academia, education, state and territory governments, community organisations, as well as individuals in or who have left the STEM pipeline.
Consultation will be accessible and include an online public submission process, as well as in-person and virtual consultation events at dates and locations to be determined. A consultation discussion paper will be developed to drive the stakeholder engagement process.
The review will make public draft recommendations in July 2023 for consultation. Final recommendations will be provided to the minister by October 2023.