Recommendations released: Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review


Tuesday, 13 February, 2024

Recommendations released: Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review

Minister for Industry and Science Ed Husic has today released the final report of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review, which addresses the urgent need for Australia to boost its STEM workforce — specifically by increasing diversity and inclusion.

The Diversity in STEM Review Panel conducted 12 months of public consultation, conversations and research, in which it heard from around 385 individuals and 94 organisations and received 300 written submissions. The panel’s findings were also informed by the STEM Career Pathways report — also released today — which found that job insecurity is a key barrier to retention in STEM careers, with women less likely to have permanent full-time work and more likely to be on fixed-term contracts.

The panel has now released 11 detailed recommendations that aim to increase the diversity of Australia’s STEM system by creating structural and cultural change: from promoting equity and diversity throughout the educational journey and STEM careers, to addressing stereotypes and eliminating workplace bullying, harassment, racism and discrimination. The recommendations are targeted at industry, governments, the education sector, not-for-profits and individuals, and include:

  • establishing a dedicated advisory council to guide government and mobilise change;
  • changing grant and procurement processes for STEM-related programs;
  • enhancing the current Women in STEM program suite and establishing programs for other cohorts underrepresented in STEM education and jobs.
     

The report has been lauded by several science bodies, with the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering (ATSE) highlighting the focus on proactive inclusion, equity, fairness and safety, and a place at the STEM research and development table for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Many of the recommendations echo ATSE’s own submissions to the review, including developing a centralised strategy for diversity in STEM, using government grant criteria to encourage uptake of diversity initiatives, and basing programs on evidence and best practice.

ATSE particularly welcomed the recommendation for expanding Elevate — the Australian Government’s flagship STEM undergraduate and postgraduate scholarship program — to more diverse cohorts of STEM scholars. ATSE also welcomed the recommendation for Learned Academies, as standard setters within the science and research community, to work with Australia’s first scientists and engineers to weave Traditional Knowledge into science and research systems.

Science and Technology Australia (STA) also made a submission to the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review on behalf of its members, and was pleased to find that its Superstars of STEM program was recognised as a model of best practice in the review.

“The expert panel also accepted our recommendations for a whole-of-government strategy to increase diversity and inclusion in STEM, the establishment of a dedicated advisory council, a government communications strategy to increase awareness about the importance of diversity in STEM, and acknowledged how important it is to give greater certainty to researchers through longer research grants,” said STA Acting CEO Sandra Gardam.

Finally, the President of the Australian Academy of Science, Professor Chennupati Jagadish, said now was the time to expand STEM inclusivity across all dimensions of diversity, not just women and girls.

“STEM-qualified Australians should reflect the make-up of the community from which they are drawn, and our practices should enable a collective commitment to equitable participation and opportunity in STEM,” he said.

“This includes not only women and girls, but also First Nations people, people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, people with disability, LGBTQIA+ people, neurodiverse people, people facing age-based discrimination and people living in regional, rural and remote areas.”

The release of the recommendations — which the government will now consider — comes less than a week after Husic announced the appointment of three prominent Australian scientists to the National Science and Technology Council (NSTC), who are set to increase the diversity of experience and perspectives on the council and support its mission to provide timely and tangible advice to government on key policy objectives.

Professor Mahananda Dasgupta — an international leader in accelerator-based nuclear fusion and fission — is the first woman to be tenured in the Research School of Physics at the Australian National University (ANU). Her expertise in nuclear physics, including complex quantum interactions, should help the NSTC advise the government on growing Australia’s research and industry capabilities in critical technology areas.

Professor Reuben Bolt is the first Indigenous Australian appointed to NSTC. A proud Yuin/Wandandian and Ngarigo man, with more than 20 years’ experience in the higher education sector, he will bring expertise in health and epidemiology to the NSTC, as well as his experience as an Indigenous leader to elevate First Nations knowledge and knowledge systems.

Professor Mark Hutchinson, who served as President of STA from 2021 to 2023, is an Australian leader in translating fundamental science discoveries into economic value. He will provide the NSTC with advice on research commercialisation and medical technologies.

“I congratulate Professor Mahananda Dasgupta, Professor Reuben Bolt and Professor Mark Hutchinson on their appointments to the National Science and Technology Council,” Husic said.

“Their exceptional scientific expertise will be of tremendous benefit to the council, particularly in areas such as Indigenous education, health sciences, research commercialisation, nanotechnology and nuclear physics.

“These appointments are also a step towards achieving greater diversity within the council and support its mission to provide timely and tangible advice to government.”

Bolt and Hutchinson will commence their three-year appointments filling current vacancies. Dasgupta will commence on 18 February.

Image credit: iStock.com/gmast3r

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