STEM sectors launch gender diversity strategy

A CONSORTIUM of government, scientists and engineers has launched a framework to help improve gender diversity in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) sector.

The five-step strategy requires companies to establish a more inclusive culture, better understand workplace issues affecting women, create inclusive management frameworks and report on diversity metrics.

An important part of the strategy is monitoring and reporting leading diversity indicators, such as the number of women at risk of leaving, a comparison of targeted and actual gender workforce compositions, and progress on addressing the gender pay gap and implementing flexible working policies.

Corporate reporting typically focuses on lagging indicators and it is hoped forward-looking statements will motivate firms to take action.

“This is the first time the science and engineering profession, through organisations like Engineers Australia, Consult Australia and the Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, have come together to endorse a practical approach to address the low numbers of women in STEM,” said strategy report author Marlene Kanga, who in 2013 was only the second woman in 96 years to become Engineers Australia president.

“This is a leadership issue. Our leaders have achieved significant cultural change in safety; they know how it can be done. They now need the will and the courage to make the cultural changes needed in our engineering and technology workplaces to make them more inclusive.”

Where are the women?

Although Australia was ranked first in female education attainment (out of 136 countries), it ranked 52nd in labour force participation, according to the 2013 World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report. In recent years, the nation’s gender gap ranking has dropped to 24 from 15 in 2006.

The gender divide is more extreme in male-dominated sectors such as construction, engineering and mining. For example, only 51% of women with engineering qualifications work in engineering, and women represent just 11.8% of the workforce.

“Of further concern is female engineers continue to leave STEM professions in large numbers, many about 10 years after university graduation, a critical time for career formation,” Kanga added.

It is hoped the diversity and inclusiveness strategy will spark a similar cultural transformation to the management of safety in the past 25 years.

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