A prosperous future depends on our capacity to innovate. We know that diverse perspectives and inclusive environments drive innovation. Yet, Australia’s Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) workforce continues to face significant challenges in attracting, advancing and retaining women.
In this report, we share the results of a survey conducted amongst nearly 3,000 people working in STEM in Australia to better understand their motivations, career experiences and priorities for action to accelerate gender equality in STEM. To test the needs of the future workforce, we also surveyed 2,000 undergraduates.
The data shows that while women and men enter STEM with high levels of motivation to solve complex problems facing the world, women are more likely than men to consider leaving STEM. Women in STEM experience significantly more barriers to progression than men and unacceptably high levels of everyday sexism, pointing to a culture in STEM that excludes women, minimises their contributions and devalues their voices.
We also learned that there is a gap between current action to address these issues, and what our people think will make a real difference.
The gender equality challenges in STEM are reflective of the larger Australian workforce where stark gender gaps persist in leadership, pay and who shoulders the responsibility for care. However, as the demand for STEM skills increase in the future of work, new approaches for attracting women and girls to STEM are needed to achieve a gender-balanced pipeline. The survey results also point to a need for employers and educational institutions to redefine how STEM and STEM careers are positioned, to emphasise their broader purpose and constructive impact on society. Interventions that shift our current workplace culture and systems of attraction, promotion and recognition must be urgently addressed.
If we don’t act, our organisations risk losing highly STEM-qualified women and diminishing our national innovation potential. We cannot afford to pay this price.
We call on all STEM leaders to join us in using these insights to drive action and look forward to working together to accelerate change.