Although women have made significant career inroads over the past two decades they are still under-represented in many STEM professionals and in senior leadership positions across government, industry and academia.
The “glass ceiling”, “leaky talent pipeline” and gender pay gap are firmly entrenched and the pressures and frustrations they cause are detrimental to women’s health and financial independence. They also deny Australia access to the full value of its highly educated and skilled female talent bank – a resource which brings enormous social and economic benefits for our whole community.
The challenge is often strongly felt by women reaching mid and senior career levels, or returning to work after a career break. These women look to WiT to fill the gap in support services available to them and they make up a large cohort of our WiT members. The career challenges can be even more acute for women from Indigenous or CALD backgrounds, and those with disability. Women in regional locations too, are often disadvantaged by distance and isolation, and WiT has established a regional advisory committee,comprising executives from agriculture, business, health and education, to grow its services for regional members. All of these women find support and connection in our diverse and inclusive WiT community.
Change is possible … and it’s happening… but too slowly.
WiT was founded to help overcome these barriers by encouraging women to build their capability and support each other. Our purpose is to unlock the potential of women in STEM by helping to drive transformative, systematic and sustained change and providing opportunities for women to establish the skills, confidence and networks they need to claim their rightful place in our technology-driven world.
More than 220,000 Australian women are building a career in STEM. Many of them aspire to promotion but STEM-qualified women continue to have higher unemployment and lower incomes than men with similar qualifications.
Australia’s STEM Workforce Report 2020, published by the Office of the Chief Scientist, showed that, at 36%, the proportion of women at senior levels in STEM industries was less than all other industries. While 71% of the university STEM qualified labour force was male, only 29% was female. More than 45% of men, with university STEM qualifications and working fulltime, were earning above $104,000 a year, but only 26% of females.
- Women’s participation in STEM-qualified occupations increased from 11% to 14%, in the 10 years from 2009 to 2019.
- The gender pay gap in STEM-qualified industries was 19% compared to 21% in all industries.
- Women were underrepresented, comprising 27% of people in STEM‑qualified industries, in 2019. By comparison, women have comprised almost half the non-STEM workforce since 2009 and approximately three-quarters of workers in health occupations.
- The proportion of women at senior levels of STEM was less than the proportion across all industries (36%).
- Women comprised 29% of the academic research workforce in STEM fields, in 2017, but only 12% at the highest academic level (professor).
The report estimates that digital innovation will deliver $315 billion in gross economic value to Australia over the 10 years to 2030. However it warns that: “Australian girls and women are still significantly underrepresented in STEM education and careers, particularly in fields like information technology and engineering. Australia must address this inequity if we are to take full advantage of future opportunities provided by STEM-driven industries and a more global and digital economy”.
At the same time, the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD) reported, in 2020, that just a little over 30% of Australia’s public company Board members were female, making programs like WiT’s Board Readiness an important stepping stone for aspiring Directors.
In April 2019, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering developed the Women in STEM Decadal Plan – a 10-year roadmap for achieving sustained increases in female STEM participation and retention, from school through to careers. Endorsed by the Australian Government, the plan outlines a vision and opportunities to guide stakeholders as they identify and implement specific actions they must take to build the strongest STEM workforce possible to support Australia’s prosperity.
Attracting women and girls to STEM and creating an environment where they can thrive and progress as leaders is a shared responsibility of government, academia, the education system, industry, and the community.
What is STEM?
WiT recognises STEM as all fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This aligns with the definition in Australia’s STEM Workforce report published by Australia’s Chief Scientist. The definition is linked to the Australian Standard Classification of Education (ASCED) and matched to research fields from the Australian and New Zealand Standard Research Classification (ANZSRC). Our community extends beyond this formal definition. WiT welcomes all those who share our vision and support our mission to advance, connect and empower women in science and technology.