L'Oréal supports women in STEM, but more needs to be done

By Lauren Davis
Thursday, 25 November, 2021

L'Oréal supports women in STEM, but more needs to be done

The L’Oréal-UNESCO For Women in Science Australia & New Zealand Fellowships for 2021 have been announced, providing five exceptional females each with a $25,000 grant to use to excel their career in any way.

In 1998, L’Oréal and UNESCO founded the For Women in Science program to promote and highlight the critical importance of ensuring greater participation of women in science. The program recognises the achievements of exceptional female scientists at the early stages of their careers and awards them with a fellowship to help further their research.

This year’s Australian and New Zealand fellows are as follows:

  • Dr Jiawen Li, from the University of Adelaide, will lead a project to create the world’s thinnest cellular-resolution intravascular imaging catheter, which will eventually lead to a better understanding of heart disease.
  • Dr Mahdokht Shaibani, from Monash University, wants to see Australia build an independent lithium-ion battery supply chain, and seeks to submit recommendations on the criticality of moving towards securing such a supply chain.
  • Dr Philippa Karoly, from the University of Melbourne, has used wearable technology to track the long-term rhythms that influence the timing of epileptic seizures. She now wants to understand why these mysterious long-term cycles exist.
  • Dr Kirsty Nash, from the University of Tasmania, aims to deliver world-first predictions of how nutrient production from fisheries will change in response to a changing environment, whilst also quantifying micronutrient flows through reef food webs.
  • Dr Olivia Harrison, from the University of Otago, wants to investigate how anxiety treatments such as exercise and pharmacotherapy may help improve symptom perception, and how this relates to improvements in the condition.

“At L’Oréal we are committed to supporting women in science and highlighting their research and expertise in their fields,” said Rodrigo Pizarro, CEO of L’Oréal Australia & New Zealand.

“We cannot wait to see these exceptional women progress in their research.”

But while programs such as this exist to encourage and recognise women in STEM, the sad fact remains that women in the professional, scientific and technical services industry largely remain underpaid, underrepresented and unsupported — facing a gender pay gap of 22% when compared to their male counterparts and experiencing higher job losses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

That’s according to Professionals Australia’s recent Women Staying in the STEM Workforce report, which revealed that women represent only 29% of the university-qualified STEM workforce and only 26% of women in STEM fall into the top income bracket (above $104,000) compared to 45% of males in this bracket. Over one-third of the female STEM workforce surveyed, aged 25 to 35, said they intend to leave their profession within five years.

Professionals Australia is now urgently calling for post-COVID strategies to focus on improving the participation, retention and career advancement of women in STEM, with CEO Jill McCabe saying the pandemic has intensified the attrition of women from STEM fields.

“The survey found that many women in STEM planned to leave the industry, with pay, conditions and a lack of career advancement among the top reasons for doing so,” McCabe said.

“This confirms that we need urgent organisational changes to ensure the retention of women in STEM fields and that increasing the number of female STEM graduates alone isn’t enough.”

McCabe said the report’s findings are consistent with her own career journey and experience in the workplace, stating, “Those who work part-time or flexibly are often seen as less committed to their careers. Being part-time also cuts you off from a lot of progression opportunities.

“This creates a vicious cycle where fewer women make it into senior, hiring positions and, as a result, fewer women in the workforce have access to professional development or are promoted to more senior roles.”

McCabe also said that while the report found that the COVID-19 pandemic had disproportionately negatively impacted women, it also provided some opportunities for improving women’s experiences in the STEM workplace.

“Despite the many negative impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has also provided an opportunity to address some of the barriers women have historically faced in STEM. There is now an increased acceptance of more flexible and remote working arrangements, as well as more online training and professional development opportunities.

“Urgently addressing the gender pay gap and the organisational factors behind the attrition of women from STEM fields must be part of any plan to rebuild the STEM workforce for an equitable post-COVID future.”

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Vladimir Borovic

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