The gender pay gap is alive and well in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), with women leaving the industry more often than men.
Women are leaving engineering and technology jobs faster than men as they continue to struggle against low wages and lack of progress.
Women continue to be underpaid and underrepresented in senior leadership roles in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM), according to recent data, available through the government’s STEM Equity Monitor.
Data released this week shows that by 2021, women working in fields like science and technology would be paid on average 18 percent less (or $26,784) than their male counterparts. This is a slight improvement from 2020, when the pay gap was $28,994 (19 percent).
But other numbers expose deeper problems. Women make up 23 percent of all managers in STEM sectors, but only 8 percent held a CEO position. By way of comparison, this was 43 percent in health care and 19 percent in all sectors.
As Australia faces an unprecedented skills shortage, there is an acute need for highly skilled people to tackle technological, economic and environmental challenges.
Lack of diversity in different sectors results in a limited workforce and a limited number of perspectives.
Increasing diversity at all levels of industry will strengthen the economy and bring new approaches to challenges from climate change to building a technology-driven economy.
Good news: Data shows that more women are enrolling in college courses like math and engineering, 24 percent between 2015 and 2020, compared to a 9 percent increase in men.
In 2021, the employment rate of women also increased. The proportion of women in STEM-qualified jobs rose 2 percent to 15 percent in 12 months.
Kylie Walker, CEO of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, said the data showed that despite the high number of women graduating from STEM studies, they were exiting the industry at a higher rate than men.
“The monitor also shows that the gender pay gap – which is already wider in STEM than in the Australian economy – has tripled for those with postgraduate technical qualifications,” she said.
“This is alarming in the context of a serious and growing shortage of technical skills. It is vital that Australia contribute to, rather than lose from, its engineering workforce.”
Science and Industry Minister Ed Husic admitted that much remains to be done to provide women with equal opportunities to learn, work and participate in the area.
More pathways were also needed to encourage First Nations people, migrants, adult workers and people with disabilities.
“We know that women remain chronically underrepresented when it comes to STEM and for First Nations people, participation is much lower. That’s why the government has announced a review to determine how programs can be reformed to support greater diversity,” Husic said.
“The data in the STEM Equity Monitor adds vital information to tell the story of where we are today. They underline the importance of why a renewed effort is needed to break down structural barriers to meet the growing demand for workers in the engineering and scientific sectors.
“Improving diversity in our STEM and technology sectors is not only the right thing to do, but broadening the pipeline of talent will also deliver incredible benefits to our national well-being.”
In an article, the Australian Government’s Women in STEM Ambassador, Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith, said gender equality requires evidence-based solutions.
“Instead of the usual PR campaigns and cupcake drives, we need investment in evidence-based solutions to address systemic issues affecting people who face discrimination against the workforce,” said Professor Harvey-Smith .
“Nothing less than strong, decisive and coordinated action by governments and business will change this pattern.
“The key to diversifying STEM workplaces is respect – and reducing power differences that occur along gender, cultural and other lines.
“Greater respect for each person will build a stronger, more cohesive society that is ready to face future challenges. And it will ensure that Australia’s fast-growing sectors – such as aerospace, advanced manufacturing, quantum technologies and cybersecurity – are well supported by qualified personnel in the future.”
Ella Burgen, a biological sciences sophomore, said that “systemic hurdles,” such as the gender pay gap and the recognition of gender and sexuality in the workplace, hindered women and non-binary people from making progress in professions like science.
“We need to draw attention to the communities of women and non-binary, transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals who are pursuing STEM,” she said.
“There must be representatives from our communities who work with current bodies and committees to change work environments and systems that are biased against us.”