Gender Equality in STEM

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In the midst of the current employability debate, there is broader, longer-running challenge that must be discussed – gender equality.

If the current policy narrative is to be believed, the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will fundamentality alter our future life and work more than any others. While STEM skills alone are not the key to innovation, it is certainly clear that we are, and will continue to be, in the midst of rapid technological change. If Australia is going to play a major role, it is essential that we are making the most of the talent available and have a diversity of voices in the room. Gender is one aspect of this diversity.

Diversity in male-dominated industries

In the 2010-11 ABS Census, men accounted for 81% of the 2.7 million people with higher level STEM qualifications.  Some progress has been made in the last 20 years. Between 1995 and 2015 around half of male-dominated industries saw improvement in the representation of women. However, according to the WGEA in 2015, women made up only 39% of the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services industry, 26% of Manufacturing and 16% of Mining.

Every industry had a pay gap in favour of men.

Why does gender equality matter?

The impact of gender equality can have a profound impact on almost any part of an organisation, and every organisation can make a business case for equality.  As the WGEA shows, gender equality can help you attract the best employees, reduce the cost of staff turnover, enhance performance, improve access to target markets, minimise legal risks and enhance your reputation.

Organisations with better gender diversity can achieve a better bottom line and are more consistent with today’s ethical standards.

How can organisations address this?

For the 2015 Gender Equality Strategy Project, commissioned by the Department of Employment, the Centre for Workplace Leadership completed a series of ten case studies that profiled how organisations are addressing gender inequality. These case studies show that there are organisations doing fantastic things across industries, and also outline future actions to take.

The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health at the University of Melbourne is one of the world’s largest brain research centres and one of the ten organisations profiled by the Centre for Workplace Leadership. The Florey Institute is already taking steps focused on how to retain talented women in male-dominated industries. There is now an Equality in Science Committee, which has subcommittees on mentoring, parent support, communication, leadership and cultural diversity. The Fred P. Archer Fellowship supports the promotion and retention of senior women researchers at the Florey.

As a result, the Florey Institute has achieved a growing culture of inclusion with active subcommittees committed to implementing the board-approved Gender Equity Strategic Plan within 5 years. After a successful mentoring program in 2015, the program has been rolled out to additional levels of the organisation, and mentors and mentees are actively matched to help shape future leaders.

The recruitment process at the Florey Institute is also being aligned to support diversity. An Equality in Science Committee is looking at strategies that will support recruitment and retention through KPIs related to gender diversity.

What can you do?

Organisations in male-dominated industries can take a number of steps to improve diversity in their businesses. Using a diagnostic for your business, such as the WGEA gender equality diagnostic will give you a sense of how you measure up and where your opportunities and challenges lie. Once you have clear goals, build key performance indicators that reflect your objectives and targets.

“Accountability of leadership is a key step”

The WGEA Gender Strategy Toolkit is also a great place to start and guides you through the development of a Gender Equality Strategy, including the all-important business case. To help you along, there are five key areas to focus on when developing this strategy.

  • specific actions to be taken;
  • existing factors in the organisation that will help achieve success;
  • risks and barriers that might impede the chances of success;
  • the desired outcomes and benefits arising from those actions; and
  • how to measure the actions.

Read more about the Workplace Gender and Equality Strategy project and access all 10 case studies within this project here.

For more about gender equality in STEM read: ‘Retaining talent in male-dominated industries: The Florey Institute of Neuroscience and Mental Health’, ‘Drawing on the full range of available talent: INPEX Australia’ and ‘Making gender equality the responsibility of all: Jacobs Group (Australia) Pty Ltd

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