And, the findings contained in the Women in STEM Decadal Plan launched on Monday at Parliament House, Canberra, by the Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Karen Andrews, also show that the current under-representation and under-utilisation of women in the STEM workforce poses a threat to Australia’s prosperity.
The plan was developed by the Australian Academy of Science in partnership with the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering. It 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.
Australian Academy of Science Fellow and Expert Working Group member, Professor Sue O’Reilly, said that while many organisations were taking actions at an individual level to support the attraction, retention and progression of women in STEM, extensive stakeholder consultations confirmed there was an “urgent case” for cohesive, systemic and sustained change.
The decadal plan highlights the economic case for gender equity, citing the 2017 World Economic Forum’s "Gender gap report" which estimates that closing the gender gap in economic participation by 25% by 2025 could add as much as US$5.3 trillion to global gross domestic product in the same timeframe.
“It’s not just an equality perspective that’s important here, it’s a business imperative,” said Australia’s first ambassador for Women in STEM, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith.
“Australia needs to be the clever country again. We need to be getting those large tech companies to stay in Australia and we need to be developing business capabilities around the new economies and become worldwide competitive again.”
Dr Bruce Godfrey, vice-president of Diversity at the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering, said the plan provided 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 — 9 and 10-year-olds making their way through primary school in 2019, as well as those entering the workforce from other life journeys — 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 to be hosted by the Academies in Melbourne on 3 April. It will provide an opportunity for delegates to learn what other organisations are doing in the gender equity space, providing a platform for both learning and collaboration.