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Women in STEM face ‘job insecurity’, concludes report

A landmark government report has concluded that there is “significant gender disparity and job insecurity” in STEM professions, with women far more likely to be in part-time or contract positions.

The STEM Career Pathways report, which you can read here, found only 58 per cent of women surveyed were on permanent full-time contracts, compared to 78 per cent of men.

The investigation was prepared by Science & Technology Australia and was significantly one of two released on Tuesday. A second, Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review, also called for significant changes by organisations to increase participation from underrepresented groups.

Engineers Australia chief executive officer Romilly Madew said engineering, in particular, is a problem area for gender equity, with only 14 per cent of working engineers being women, as well as 19 per cent of engineering graduates.


“This is at a time where there is huge demand for engineers in the labour market. Addressing the lack of diversity in STEM occupations is critical to lessening current and future skills shortages,” she said.

“The decline in uptake of maths and science subjects in school, and declining commencements in engineering studies in the past decade, are concerning signs for Australia’s engineering workforce pipeline.

“We need to elevate the ‘E’ in STEM, because engineering has a unique place in the national agenda. It is critical that the panel’s recommended advisory council includes an engineering perspective and that strategies are tailored to meet the unique challenges across all STEM fields, moving away from a generic, one-size-fits-all STEM approach.”

Among the STEM Career Pathway report’s key findings, job insecurity was determined to be a barrier to remaining in STEM careers, particularly in research, and damages workplace culture and job satisfaction.


It concludes changes are needed to help people move between sectors; support science career retention, particularly for women; and better match skills with sectors.

A second Pathway to Diversity in STEM investigation stated its authors heard from people in the sector who have “voiced dismay and exhaustion by continued, unchecked harmful behaviours”.

“Many stories were shared in confidence for fear of retribution,” it concluded. “This is unacceptable.

“Organisations and government must take urgent action to eliminate behaviours that cause people to leave STEM occupations because they feel, and are, unsafe. Accountability for change is critical.”

Its recommendations include urging “every Australian organisation employing STEM workers” to publicly explain how it will attract more employees from underrepresented cohorts.

The Minister for Industry and Science, Ed Husic, announced the review in September 2022 following the federal government’s Jobs and Skills Summit. It was headed by Sally-Ann Williams, the CEO of Cicada Innovations, which runs NSW’s National Space Industry Hub.

According to Australia’s chief scientist, Cathy Foley, the country needs to “get the settings right” in the STEM workforce.

“The system needs to do more to support people once they’ve chosen a STEM career, so we don’t lose the value of this highly trained group,” she said.

“I was struck by the difference between the number of men and women on permanent contracts – the survey suggests women are much more likely to be on short-term contracts. Those contracts are almost always for three years or fewer.

“We need to increase the number of people studying STEM. We also need to better align skills with industry growth areas to correct the mismatch between demand and supply. We’re not necessarily training people in the right areas – engineering, mathematics and physics, for example, are areas of chronic shortage.”

Adam Thorn

Adam Thorn

Adam is a journalist who has worked for more than 40 prestigious media brands in the UK and Australia. Since 2005, his varied career has included stints as a reporter, copy editor, feature writer and editor for publications as diverse as Fleet Street newspaper The Sunday Times, fashion bible Jones, media and marketing website Mumbrella as well as lifestyle magazines such as GQ, Woman’s Weekly, Men’s Health and Loaded. He joined Momentum Media in early 2020 and currently writes for Australian Aviation and World of Aviation.

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