Women play a pivotal role in the current and future STEM workforce in Australia and across the globe. As STEM skills become integral to the advancement of society, achieving gender equity for Women in STEM professions is a key initiative that requires multiple sectors and stakeholders to work together to eliminate the barriers faced by women in STEM.
The barriers women face in STEM careers
The underrepresentation of women in STEM is the result of multiple intersecting social, cultural and economic influences that impact the entry, progression, and retention of women in STEM careers.
Barriers that affect women in STEM Careers:
- Gender stereotypes and biased hiring practices
- Limited workplace flexibility
- Age-based discrimination
- Workplace harassment
- Gendered expectations of child care
- Limited support and encouragement for girls and women in STEM Education
- Gender pay gap across all levels of employment
Gender pay gap and STEM careers
The gender pay gap is higher in STEM industries than any other industry. Overall, womens’ average full-time income is 19% lower than men in STEM-qualified workplaces across all industries, amassing to an average pay gap of $28,994 compared to all other workplace industries, where the pay gap sits at $25,534.
Across STEM-qualified industries and occupations (workplaces where 50% of employers hold a recognised stem-qualification), women comprise 28% of the STEM Workforce. Despite a 2% increase of women in STEM occupations between 2009 and 2020, women’s representation in STEM Careers remains significantly low. In addition, the position of women in STEM in senior positions rests at 23%.
Women in STEM careers 2020 review
Key data published in the STEM Equity Monitor, 2020 compares the status of university and VET graduate STEM entry incomes.
A significant finding from the recent research also illustrated that women and men with undergraduate STEM university qualifications had similar median incomes.
However, depending upon qualification, the report illustrated that women with VET STEM qualifications and postgraduate qualifications earn significantly less income over time than their male counterparts.
Women’s full-time median income (with STEM VET qualifications):
Agriculture, environmental and related studies — $47,000 ($5,000 less than men)
Engineering and related technologies — $56,000 ($8,000 less than men)
Natural and physical sciences — $45,000 ($12,000 less than men)
Information technology – $59,000 ($7,000 more than men).
Women’s full-time median income (with Postgraduate STEM Qualifications):
In the same year, women who completed postgraduate coursework in STEM fields earned less median income than men in:
Agriculture and environmental studies — $70,000 ($23,000 less than men)
Science and mathematics — $83,000 ($14,000 less than men)
Computing and information systems — $82,000 ($19,000 less than men)
Women in STEM graduate outcomes and employment
From career entry, progression and equal pay, women in STEM encounter roadblocks across all stages of the STEM Career Progression Pipeline.
A longitudinal analysis of 2011 STEM Graduates included in the STEM Equity Monitor reported on the employment and economic status of male and female STEM graduates over a 5-year period.
In 2011, women constituted 38% of the 25,750 STEM graduates across Australia. Over the 5 year period of analysis, the statistics illustrate the core barriers faced by women in STEM across the STEM Career Progression Pipeline, commencing in the first year of employment and increasing over the 5-year time period.
5 year STEM graduate career progression breakdown:
2 years post-graduation
70% of the women who were employed in that year had an annual income of less than $50,000. Only 10% earned $75,000 or more. By comparison, 50% of employed STEM-qualified men earned less than $50,000, and 21% earned $75,000 or more.
5 years post-graduation
→ By 2016, of the 2011 STEM graduates, men were 1.8 times more likely to be working in a STEM-qualified occupation (47% of men, compared to 26% of women).
→ By 2015–16, the proportion of employed men who earned $75,000 or more (38%) was almost double the proportion of women with that income (20%).
→ Men were also 2.6 times more likely to have earned $100,000 or more than women (17% and 7% respectively) in 2015–16.
→ Women were more than 3 years behind men in reaching earnings of $50,000 a year, with 50% of men earning over this threshold in 2012–13, compared to only 45% of women in 2015–16.
→ Employed STEM-qualified women were twice as likely to work part-time compared to STEM- qualified men (26% of women, 13% of men)
The future of women in STEM careers
For young girls and women who do break through the barriers and pursue STEM studies, as women entering the workplace, the challenges are twofold. Women in STEM workplaces face barriers to career entry and progression alongside workplace harassment, lower pay and biased hiring and promotion practices across all levels of STEM employment.
To increase the visibility and improve the position of women in STEM careers, barriers to access, progression and retention must be overcome through widespread systemic change across social, educational and professional spheres.
Boost your STEM career
Become a visible role model for young women and girls with Superstars of STEM. The program trains Australian women scientists and technologists in advanced communication skills to appear in media interviews and other public talks.
Become a Women in STEM Decadal Plan Champion
Make a public commitment to create a more equitable STEM ecosystem by aligning your organisation’s activities towards gender equity with any of the six opportunities identified in the Women in STEM Decadal Plan: leadership and cohesion, evaluation, workplace culture, visibility, education and industry action.
Become a SAGE subscriber
Join approximately 87% of Australian universities to undergo the SAGE pathway to accreditation by committing to advancing the careers of women, trans and gender diverse individuals in STEM.
Conduct a gender impact assessment
Assess the gendered impact of your policies, programs and services with this toolkit, and create equal benefits for your employees and stakeholders.
Find more resources below.
Women In STEM Decadal Plan. Australian Academy of Science. (2019)
STEM Equity Monitor Data Highlights 2021. Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. (2021)