Women are still dramatically underrepresented in engineering, despite gains in Australia’s STEM workforce in the decade to 2016.
The STEM workforce report, published yesterday by Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel, shows slow and patchy – but hugely important – gains towards greater gender equality in STEM.
From 2006 to 2016, women remained just 9 per cent of the VET STEM qualified workforce. Women’s representation in the university STEM qualified workforce rose only slightly from 28% to 31%.
This was despite an extra 50,000 women entering the STEM workforce between 2011 and 2016.
Women are most acutely under-represented in engineering (15%), physics (20%) and astronomy (20%), and in maths and technology.
Engineers Australia CEO Dr Bronwyn Evans said we need to double-down on efforts to attract girls and women to engineering.
“While there has been a small gain in the number of women entering the profession, it’s taken too long and the numbers are still too few. More work is urgently required if we are going to see a meaningful increase.”
Dr Evans acknowledged that there is no easy fix, saying that multiple approaches were required.
“Increasing women’s participation in STEM study, specifically engineering is vital and new approaches at different levels of education need to be investigated. Research suggests students start discounting career options from year 4, so changing the curriculum to include engineering would be a significant step,” she said.
“We also need to increase the visibility of engineers to show that it is a diverse and exciting sector with a wealth of opportunities for women.”
Science & Technology Australia Chief Executive Officer Misha Schubert said the data shows we still have a long way to go to reach equality in most STEM fields.
“Even with strong gender equity efforts over many years, just one in ten workers with a VET STEM qualification and one in three workers with a STEM degree are women,” she said.
Of the STEM fields, the broad field of science was the only one close to gender parity- women were 49% of the workforce with a university qualification in science in 2016.
“The huge task of tackling this underrepresentation highlights a crucial role of initiatives such as our game-changing Superstars of STEM program to lift the profiles of women in STEM,” Ms Schubert said.
- Engineering is the largest STEM field; in 2016 people with engineering qualifications made up 81% of the VET STEM labour force and 38% of the university STEM labour force. Within this engineering cohort, women make up only 4% of the VET qualified and 15% of the university qualified labour force, the lowest representation of any STEM field. This is compared to the overall STEM qualified labour force of 8% VET and 29% university-qualified being female.
- When looking at the total STEM qualified population (as opposed to labour force) in Australia, in VET qualified STEM fields, the highest female representation was in science (56%), the lowest in engineering (5%), and of the university qualified STEM fields, the highest female representation was again in science (50%) and the lowest engineering (16%).
- While female representation was stagnant in VET qualified labour force, we have seen an increase in female participation in engineering university qualified labour force from 13% in 20011 to 15% in 2016.
The full report is available online via the Office of the Chief Scientist website.