Australian women’s participation in STEM creeps backward in 2020

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Women’s participation in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) when compared to male counterparts remains dire, the latest edition of the Australian government’s annual STEM Equity Monitor has shown.

The 2021 edition of the monitor showed that the number of women in STEM-qualified occupations decreased by 1% from 14% in 2019 to 13% in 2020, while men in STEM-qualified occupations increased by 1% during the same period from 86% to 87%.

At the same time, the monitor showed the gender pay gap between men and women working in STEM also remained significant, but steady at 19%. In dollar terms, the gender pay gap was AU$29,000 in 2020 versus AU$26,000 across all industries.

When broken down, the STEM-qualified industries with the largest pay gap percentage were other machinery and equipment manufacturing, followed by architectural, engineering, and technical services. Women earned 24% less than men in both of these industries.

The automotive repair and maintenance industry had the smallest pay gap among the STEM‑qualified industries, with women earning approximately 5% less than men in this industry.

Meanwhile, women still made up less than a quarter of key management personnel and senior managers at 23%. Nonetheless, it was an improvement on the 18% that was recorded in 2016.

But it is not all bad news as the proportion of women studying STEM reached the highest since at least 2015, making up 36% or 81,000 of Australian university STEM enrolments.

The monitor also looked at the career transitions of women who graduated with STEM qualifications. It showed five years after graduating, men with a STEM qualification were 1.8 times more likely to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation compared to their women peers.

This year’s monitor also examined how parents, teachers, and career advisers perceive STEM. According to the monitor, 92% agreed that a STEM-skilled workforce is important for the Australian economy, with 89% saying both mathematics and technology skills are important for future employment.

Meanwhile, 60% of parents also agreed that it is easier to engage boys with STEM subjects compared to other subject areas. Only 44% of parents felt the same for girls.

Despite this, more than half of all parents did not believe gender played any role in determining success in a STEM career, with 55% disagreeing that boys have a better chance at succeeding in STEM compared to girls.

“The STEM Equity Monitor allows us to measure and understand the impact of our investments, and make sure we’re travelling in the right direction to achieve gender equity across STEM in the long term,” Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Christian Porter said.

“These results from the STEM Equity Monitor, another year on, give us a tool to see trends and measure if our programs are working in bringing more women into STEM study and the STEM workforce.”

The monitor was launched last year under the federal government’s plans to lift women participation in STEM. Annual findings will be provided for a 10-year period until 2029.

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