A nationwide survey from trade union Professionals Australia has found that women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and professional roles across Australia are underpaid, underrepresented and unsupported.
In its “Women Staying in The STEM Workforce” report, the organisation found that the STEM field has a 22 percent pay gap between male and female workers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has also seen more job losses among women in the field, citing a Grattan Institute report that found STEM job losses were 5.6 percent from mid-March to mid-April 2020, with jobs down 6.3 percent for women compared to 4.8 percent for men.
Among the university-qualified STEM workforce, the survey found women only represented 29 percent. A third of that figure, specifically those aged 25 to 35, reported that they had intended to leave their profession within five years.
Professionals Australia chief executive Jill McCabe said the report’s findings indicate that the COVID-19 pandemic has, as feared, intensified the attrition of women from STEM fields and urgent action must be taken.
“The survey found that many women in STEM planned to leave the industry, with pay, conditions and a lack of career advancement among the top reasons for doing so. The pandemic has also created a further ‘push’ factor,” McCabe said.
“This confirms that we need urgent organisational changes to ensure the retention of women in STEM fields and that increasing the number of female STEM graduates alone isn’t enough.”
McCabe added that the findings were consistent with her own career journey and experience in the workplace.
“Those who work part-time or flexibly are often seen as less committed to their careers. Being part-time also cuts you off from a lot of progression opportunities,” she said.
“This creates a vicious cycle where fewer women make it into senior, hiring positions and, as a result, fewer women in the workforce have access to professional development or are promoted to more senior roles.”
The survey also found that the COVID-19 pandemic also provided some opportunities for improving women’s experiences in the STEM workplace.
“Despite the many negative impacts, the COVID-19 pandemic has also provided an opportunity to address some of the barriers women have historically faced in STEM. There is now an increased acceptance of more flexible and remote working arrangements, as well as more online training and professional development opportunities,” McCabe said.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has only highlighted the crucial role our STEM professionals play in shaping public life and outcomes. It’s only fair this value is reflected in their pay and workplace conditions.
“Urgently addressing the gender pay gap and the organisational factors behind the attrition of women from STEM fields must be part of any plan to rebuild the STEM workforce for an equitable post-COVID future.”