How we can support female leaders in STEM in 2022 and beyond - Women's Agenda

How we can support female leaders in STEM in 2022 and beyond

We owe it to the next generation of Australian women and girls in STEM to raise our voices in support of a fair future defined by access, opportunities and optimism.

We have just celebrated the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM on Feb 11. The disciplines of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) have traditionally been a ‘boys club’, dominated by the male perspective, thanks to pervasive inequity. 

Gendered inequality has long undermined the access to education, opportunities, career advancement and leadership positions available to people assigned a gender other than male at birth. Today, I’m pleased to celebrate that the combination of advocacy, activism and societal change has resulted in an increased number of girls and women entering STEM professions after graduating. 

The 2021 STEM Equity Monitor report on the participation of girls and women in STEM demonstrates it definitively: change is coming. 2019 saw a staggering increase in the enrolment of Australian women in STEM courses at a university level – increasing by 736% since 2015. 

By staking a claim on the career path of their choosing, girls and women in STEM in 2021 are paving the way forward for gender equity in the sciences and fields of technology, engineering, and maths.

Over half a century has passed since women entered the Australian workforce en masse. Despite a vast pool of talented, intelligent women, female representation in STEM industry roles has been glacial at all levels of career progression. Academically, girls seemingly start ahead of the curve. Why then are women and girls not getting through the funnel to senior leadership positions in STEM fields?

2020 saw the release of the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ Gender Indicators – a report exploring the economic and social differences between women and men over time. The Gender Indicators report revealed that while women reach significant heights within academic achievement, only 17% of leadership roles are held by women, versus 83% occupied by men. Sector-specific biases create a systemic failure that blocks the transition of women and girls into impactful leadership positions in STEM. Expounding this historic exclusion is wasting the potential of Australian women and girls.

Suppose we were to develop opportunities that support female leaders, leading to greater representation in the STEM C-suite. To achieve this would take a lot of work. Study after study confirms that people unconsciously associate women and men with different traits – leading to a widespread cultural bias towards men in leadership roles. 

Australians can work proactively to champion women and girls in STEM into the future to counterbalance that they may be hardwired to react in specific ways to people of different genders. The days of gendered qualities associated with competent and effective leadership are long gone.

To celebrate women and girls in STEM this week, we should be mindful that females who progress against the odds to positions of power in science and business are not just extraordinarily competent and effective in the workplace; they also may be juggling other challenges that male counterparts do not face. Daily, women in the workplace may still also experience gender discrimination, ageism, unwanted and unboundaried advances from colleagues, salary bias, family caretaking duties outside of work and cultural biases.

Days like the International Day of Women and Girls in STEM are essential because these celebrations offer an opportunity to acknowledge how far women have come to pursue gender equality in the workplace. STEM careers can no longer belong to the traditionally-dominant ‘boys club’. The Australian science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields will benefit wholeheartedly from opening their hiring scope to women in STEM at all levels of employment. The future of Australian innovation and advancement will benefit from including diverse voices, opinions, and intellects thanks to a more gender-inclusive workforce. The long-lasting change will be an evolutionary process, requiring patient determination from all involved. 

Working towards a future that offers equitable access to education, opportunities, career advancement, and leadership positions across the gender spectrum is an inspiring mission to guide 2022. 


Stay Smart! Get Savvy!

Get Women’s Agenda in your inbox