‘Outdated perceptions’: Why women in STEM feel threatened

Only 16% of the STEM skilled workforce are women in 2023

‘Outdated perceptions’: Why women in STEM feel threatened

Women working in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) related industries still find hostility and lack of job opportunities according to a new study. 

A report by the University of South Australia entitled: ‘From insight to action: Strategies for cultivating equity and empowering women in industry’ reveals that only 16% of the STEM skilled workforce are women in 2023 and 90% of women who have STEM qualifications are employed in non-STEM related fields.

Women are also under-represented at senior level and board management and often find STEM related industries unfriendly to parenting arrangements leading to job insecurity.

“STEM fields have traditionally been male-dominated, and there is still a prevalent stereotype that prevents young women from pursuing careers in STEM fields,” Connie Beck, director of IT transformation and digital at Urbis, said.

“In technology, where women make up less than a quarter of students studying, and over half of the women training in this field eventually leave the industry. This is a worrying trend that we need to address.”

Safety in the workplace

It is requirement under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to provide a safe workspace for all employees. Besides the legislative requirements, it is in an employers’ best interests to create a culture where ideas are expressed freely, people are judged on their work and not their gender, and all backgrounds are considered for advertised roles.

“The broken rung at the first step up to manager is a significant barrier for women to progress to leadership roles,” Beck said. “Unfortunately, for every 100 men promoted to manager, only 86 women are promoted, according to research by McKenzie. It’s no wonder we are still lagging in leadership roles. 

“One reason for this is the outdated perception that women will not be in for the long haul and may not be able to provide the necessary focus for the business, especially if they become pregnant and take maternity leave. This is a prejudice that still exists in some sectors and needs to be addressed. 

“STEM work environments need to prioritise creating a supportive culture that empowers women.”

Cold hard facts

According to research by the Commonwealth Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources, there is still a significant pay gap between men and women working in STEM industries.

The gender pay gap for full-time workers in STEM industries shrank from $28,994 in 2020 to $26,784 in 2021, still leaving men predominately advantaged. On average, women still earn 18% less than men across all STEM industries.

Furthermore, just 23% of senior management and 8% of CEOs in STEM-qualified industries are women.

So, why are so few women promoted to leadership positions?

“I would say it largely stems down to the burden of care that often but not always falls on women,” Skye Theodorou, CEO of upcover, said. “Whatever the gender, if you are also looking after a family member or friend, elderly parent, or your own children it often takes years to help with transitions from newborn to school years, or from injury to recovery, or from senior years to end of life, and it is hard to juggle both.

“What often happens is that it can come at the cost of short or long absences from work. Instead of supporting women to successfully navigate care and career, many companies can overlook women for these positions making it harder to nab those leadership roles.”

Women want to work in STEM industries

The research conducted by Commonwealth Government Department of Industry, Science and Resources reveals that women want to STEM fields with the number of women enrolling in university STEM courses increased by 24% between 2015 and 2020, however, women only made up 27% of the workforce across all STEM industries in 2021.

“There are many different ways companies can support women, but the first step is actively seeking women to join their workforce and being aware of the incredible value they can bring to the table,” Theodorou said.

“In our team, women, and mothers like myself, can often be the best detail oriented, emotionally intelligent, and best at multi-tasking. To better support women, a supportive team with great management and flexibility are available are a must.

“At the end of the day, it matters where you choose to work, and who you choose as your manager and if you believe you can progress and be supported, in both your personal life, family goals and work and career. These things are more important than ever and if you aren't feeling this way, speak up to your manager, find a mentor, or possibly look for a new job that suits your next life goals and won't mean you can't progress to leadership positions too.”

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