‘Stay the course’: STEM diversity recommendations backed by program operators

Brandon How

The draft recommendations made of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM Review panel have been broadly backed by the teams running Women in STEM programs, who say boosting diversity will require sustained investment over the long-term.

Among the Pathway to Diversity in STEM draft recommendations, released on Tuesday, was a call for a new government office for diversity in STEM alongside workplace changes that include mechanisms that would make bullying and harassment as grounds for research funding being rescinded.

An accompanying review of ongoing government-funded Women in STEM initiatives found there was no clear evidence that the short-term benefits to participants was translating to broader systemic and cultural changes.

Over the decade to 2022, the proportion of women in STEM-qualified or mixed STEM-qualified occupations grew by just three points from 19 per cent to 22 per cent.

Geek Girl Academy founder Sarah Moran said the review of the government’s Women in STEM initiatives should demonstrate to Industry and Science minister Ed Husic that an insignificant amount of financial investment has yielded insignificant results.


She said it is clear in every recommendation of the Pathway to Diversity in STEM review that more government resources must be committed to the diversity initiatives. She backed the report’s call for a more coordinated whole of government approach, unlike the “funding by press release approach” that the review found under the Coalition.

“Girl Geek Academy were recipients of the first round of Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants and once the funding ended and our project was deemed successful there was no follow-on opportunity to scale its impact,” Ms Moran said.

“We proved our program worked and instead of it continuing until we achieved equality, the previous government simply funded something else and left our program to wither.”

Science and Technology Australia (STA)’s chief executive Misha Schubert said the draft recommendations were“a powerful exhortation to stay the course and double down” on proven diversity initiatives with long-term investment.

She flagged the STA-run Superstars of STEM program, which was recommended in the report as a way for media to “help influence diverse representation beyond women to non-binary people and people from other diverse cohorts”.

Every year the Superstars of STEM program provides mentorship and media training to women and non-binary STEM experts from historically underrepresented groups to help build their public profiles. It aims to increase the visibility of “diverse role models featured in the media as experts in STEM” and has trained 150 experts so far.

To improve the program, the report recommended that better longer-term measurement of outcomes be implemented and that the STA “explore opportunities for greater industry engagement” for program delivery.

“Australia needs to build on this success by backing what is working, strengthen coordination across government, and complement programs like Superstars of STEM with legislative and policy changes to drive systemic and cultural shifts across society to diversify our future STEM workforce,” Ms Schubert said.

The STA also specifically backed the recommendation for a Diversity in STEM Council, the strengthening of STEM teaching, and to mitigate job insecurity for STEM researchers.

While Australian Academy of Science (AAS) President Professor Chennupati Jagadish welcomed the draft recommendations, he said here was “much more still to do to deliberately and strategically improve diversity in STEM”.

“This review confirms that to break down persistent barriers faced by under-represented communities, the STEM sector — government, academia, educators and industry – needs to push in the same direction and harness the opportunities in the Women in STEM Decadal Plan designed to reach gender equity by 2030.”

Professor Jagadish welcomed the report’s acknowledgement of the benefits of many of the government’s ongoing programs, some of which build on the recommendations of the Women in STEM Decadal Plan developed by the AAS and the Australian Academy of Technology and Engineering (ATSE) in 2019.

ATSE, which runs the relatively new government funded Elevate mentoring and networking program, also highlighted the importance of long-term “scale and systemic work”, given that “national progress has been woefully inadequate”.

It said the recommendation for a centralised office and independent advisory council to coordinate the government’s approach to STEM diversity was “low-hanging fruit”.

Tech Council of Australia chief executive Kate Pounder said the group “strongly supports the important review”.

“The draft recommendations are comprehensive and recognise that everyone needs to step up to accelerate progress. This includes industry, government and the education/academic sectors.,” Ms Pounder said.

“We are particularly pleased to see the review recognise the importance of lifelong learning, as we know that reskilling later in life is one of the biggest opportunities to improve diversity in the tech workforce.

“Overcoming cultural barriers and community attitudes will also be vital. These barriers start early in life and are one of the key drivers behind the Tech Council’s decision to develop and roll-out a national virtual work experience program for secondary school students. “

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