Report: More needs to be done to accelerate progress on diversity and inclusion in Australia’s STEM sectors

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The Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review has highlighted the need for more ambitious and strategic action to increase diversity in STEM.

Australia faces a growing demand for workers with STEM qualifications and skills. Over the last 20 years employment in STEM occupations grew by 85.0%, or more than twice the rate of non-STEM occupations.

In the next 5 years employment in STEM occupations (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) is projected by the NSC (National Skills Commission) to grow by 12.9%, well above the average
of all occupations (of 7.8%) and more than twice as fast as non-STEM occupations (6.2%).

However, Australia’s STEM sectors are facing a critical diversity and inclusion challenge. This shortfall in diversity is not merely a statistical concern but a significant barrier to innovation, competitiveness, and the capacity to address future work demands.

The problem of low diversity in Australia’s STEM fields is multifaceted. Firstly, there is a pronounced gender gap, with women significantly underrepresented in many STEM careers. This discrepancy is not just a matter of numbers; it reflects deeper issues of gender bias, systemic barriers to entry and advancement, and a lack of supportive workplace environments that can accommodate the diverse needs of a varied workforce.

Furthermore, Indigenous Australians, people with disabilities, and individuals from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (CALD) also find themselves vastly underrepresented in STEM professions. This lack of representation is symptomatic of broader societal inequities, including access to quality education, socio-economic barriers, and persistent stereotypes that deter participation from these groups.

The independent Diversity in STEM Review Panel has made 11 detailed recommendations, based on 12 months of public consultation, conversations and research. The Panel heard from around 385 individuals and 94 organisations through conversations, interviews and workshops, and received 300 written submissions. 

This report contains 11 detailed recommendations to create structural and cultural change to
increase the diversity of Australia’s STEM system. In summary, these are:

  1. The Australian Government committing to a whole-of-government, long-term strategy to
    increase diversity and inclusion in STEM. This includes establishing a dedicated advisory
    council supported by dedicated government resources.
  2. The Australian Government establishing a suite of diversity in STEM programs, as detailed in
    the Diversity in STEM Program Strategy in the final section of this report. This includes
    embedding best-practice program design elements across programs, making changes to the
    current Women in STEM program suite, and establishing new programs that address barriers
    for underrepresented cohorts.
  3. Every Australian organisation employing STEM workers committing to the elimination of
    bullying, harassment and discrimination, including racism.
  4. Every Australian organisation employing STEM workers adopting, making public and
    implementing a plan to increase attraction, retention and promotion of underrepresented
    cohorts.
  5. The Australian Government making Australian STEM workplaces safer, more diverse and
    inclusive by changing grant and procurement processes for STEM-related programs. This
    includes providing guidance to help organisations implement the recommendations in this
    report, and examining the need for further changes, such as legislation or changes to other
    financial arrangements.
  6. The Australian Government including a focus on STEM in implementing any strategies in
    response to the 2023 Review of the Migration System.
  7. The Australian Government working with states and territories to improve participation and
    achievement in STEM skills and subjects in schools.
  8. The Australian Government preparing and supporting educators to teach STEM in a way that
    is responsive to the needs of diverse cohorts.
  9. The Australian Government working with states and territories to ensure that national tertiary
    education reforms increase access, participation and attainment of underrepresented cohorts
    in STEM education.
  10. The Australian Government preferencing First Nations scientists and researchers applying
    for government funding for projects that affect or draw from First Nations Knowledges and
    knowledge systems, and working with First Nations communities to develop further ways to
    elevate First Nations Knowledges. The Learned Academies working with the academic community and Traditional Knowledge holders to build respect, awareness and better practices to weave First Nations Knowledges into science and research systems.
  11. The Australian Government developing a communication and outreach strategy to increase
    awareness, visibility and importance of diversity in STEM to emphasise the opportunities and
    potential for careers in STEM.

In 2023, another report STEM Career Pathways Report found that:

  • Job insecurity is a barrier to retention in STEM careers, particularly in Australia’s STEM research sector.
  • Even among PhD graduates who have been in the workforce for 15 years or more, 25% were on fixed-term contracts.
  • Short-term research funding and job insecurity damages workplace culture and job satisfaction.
  • Women are less likely to have permanent full-time work, and more likely to be on fixed-term contracts.
  • 78% of men who responded to the survey were on permanent full-time contracts; the figure for women was just 58%. 

Source: Australian Government

Source: © Commonwealth of Australia 2023, Science & Technology Australia (2023), STEM Career Pathways. A report to the National Science and Technology Council, Australian Government, Canberra.

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