Govt funding, 10-year plan to improve gender equity in STEM
The Australian Government last week announced $3.4 million to improve science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) equity in Australia and boost the participation of girls and women in STEM careers.
Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews said having a workforce with STEM skills is a key component of the government’s plan for a stronger economy and more jobs.
“The funding underpins the Liberal National Government’s priority to address gender inequity in STEM and to continue improving women’s economic security,” Andrews said.
“In order to have the widest talent pool possible, we need to ensure all Australians are supported to participate in STEM activities and careers.
“We know that STEM is the engine of technology, innovation and wealth — and gender-diverse teams are better problem-solvers.”
$1.8 million of the funding will extend the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) initiative so higher education and research sectors can continue to improve gender equity policies and practices, Andrews said. This investment builds on the $2 million the government already allocated to SAGE from 2016–17 to 2018–19.
“We have a vision of all eligible Australian research institutions being SAGE members, demonstrating their commitment to gender equity. Ongoing support for this initiative will help achieve this,” Andrews said.
The government also plans to implement a $1.5 million national digital awareness-raising initiative, with the support of astrophysicist and Women in STEM Ambassador Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith. Andrews said, “We want to heighten the visibility of girls and women in STEM and showcase the diverse opportunities STEM study and careers can provide.”
SAGE Executive Director Dr Wafa El-Adhami was pleased to see the government’s commitment for women in STEM, and particularly for SAGE.
“The government’s further $1.8 million investment in SAGE will continue to enable its expansion across the higher education and research sector, and will underpin long-term sustainability of the program,” Dr El-Adhami said.
“This announcement will be warmly welcomed by all SAGE members across the higher education and research sector who recognise that changing behaviour requires collective commitment and sustained action.
“It will also encourage others in the higher education and research sector to join SAGE and launch their own journeys to advance gender equity and diversity.”
The SAGE Pilot of the UK’s Athena SWAN Charter is Australia’s only national initiative to mobilise collective on-the-ground action across STEMM — science, technology, engineering, mathematics and medicine — in the higher education and research sector. The initiative is delivered as a partnership between the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, both of which have welcomed the government’s investment.
“SAGE is the only transformative gender equity program of its kind in Australia designed to achieve sustained change via ongoing evaluation and a national accreditation framework,” said Professor John Shine, President of the Australian Academy of Science.
“Australia has taken a leadership role by piloting the Athena SWAN Charter program, with countries such as Canada and the United States now following our example.”
Dr Bruce Godfrey, the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering’s Vice-President for Diversity, added that the funding support will enable SAGE to expand its work in supporting the higher education and research sector to bring about a step change for gender equity in STEM.
“The announcement of building national digital awareness is also welcome as the rate of adoption of automation based on big data, the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence, across all Australian industry sectors, is escalating,” Dr Godfrey said.
“Automation in its broadest application across industry will see the demand for STEM-skilled employees continue to rise rapidly.
“This means that virtually every organisation in Australia will find itself relying on STEM skills, whether it be industry, government or higher education and research institutions.
“This problem cannot be fixed without addressing the significant under-representation of women in our STEM-skilled workforce, particularly at senior operational and leadership levels.”
The funding was announced just two days prior to the launch of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan, developed by the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering.
Launched by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology at Parliament House, the plan outlines six opportunities to strengthen gender equity in STEM in Australia over the next 10 years, including establishing a national evaluation framework to guide decision-making and drive investment and effort into STEM measures that work.
“Change can commence at the grassroots and this should not be discouraged,” said Australian Academy of Science Fellow and Expert Working Group member Professor Sue O’Reilly. “However, the systemic and sustained change required to make a step change in achieving gender equity in Australia will primarily occur when led and championed from the top.”
Dr Godfrey said the plan provides the first opportunity to tackle the issue of gender equity at a national scale and highlights the importance of government, academia, industry, the education sector and the community working together to drive change.
“If this plan and the opportunities contained within it are realised, the STEM graduates of 2030 … will join workplaces that are respectful, free of harassment and discrimination, value diversity, and structured to support a variety of STEM careers that include women in leadership positions,” Dr Godfrey said.
The starting point for the implementation of the plan is a ‘Pathways to Equity in STEM workshop’, which was hosted by the academies in Melbourne on 3 April. It provided an opportunity for delegates to learn what other organisations are doing in the gender equity space, providing a platform for both learning and collaboration.
For more information and to download the plan, click here.
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