Gender disparity still exists in STEM fields

It is a disappointing statistic to read after years of hard work.

It is a disappointing statistic to read after years of hard work. Women who graduate with a degree in science, technology, engineering or mathematics are more likely to wind up working in sales than in their chosen field of study.

That is the word from researchers of the paper An Australian study of graduate outcomes for disadvantaged students, which details that only one in eight female graduates will find employment in their specialised engineering or IT field.

Statistics from the federal government’s Australia’s STEM workforce report March 2016 also highlights this, with less than a third (27 per cent) of STEM graduates being female. Female graduates are likely to be younger and work part-time compared to their male counterparts.

The report also shows that the pay gap between men and women across the STEM workforce was substantial, even for those women who had children and learnt new management skills while on maternity leave.

Only 20.6 per cent of senior STEM professors in Australia are women, showing that a gender disparity still exists in the field.

STEM is no longer just a field dominated by men. No longer is the male the breadwinner of the family and no longer is the woman the primary caregiver. Times have changed.

University of Tasmania research fellow Dr Fiona Kerslake says changes need to happen on both sides – there needs to be more opportunities for women to work when they have children, as well as “about releasing men from the concept that they have to work full-time”.

Dr Kerslake  is one of 30 Superstars of STEM, a program aimed at highlighting women in STEM industries who can encourage young women and girls entering the field. The aim is to dispel the gender stereotypes and make STEM more attractive to young women.

The same aim has been identified by the Deloitte Access Economics report into Australia’s STEM Workforce, which noted that there is a lack of female employees in the field.

Programs like the World F1 in School’s Championships, which will see Queechy High School’s all-girls team Golden Diversity head to Malaysia this month, are wonderful for encouraging youth to enter the field.

But traditional STEM industries must change their culture towards women to make this work.